BERKELEY (KRON) — President Trump took to Twitter early Thursday morning to respond to the protests at the University of California at Berkeley that turned violent.
The crowd was protesting a right-wing commentator’s appearance at the school. The school even canceled Wednesday’s talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor of Breitbart News, after some 1,500 people had gathered outside the venue.
But officials said it was a smaller group of protesters dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts that showed up as night fell to break windows with metal barricades, throw smoke bombs and flares and start a large bonfire outside the building with a diesel generator.
President Trump responded on Twitter taking in question the school’s federal funding.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Berkeley, quickly hit back against Trump’s tweet, issuing a statement denouncing the violence but promising to stand up to any attempt Trump makes to withdraw funding from the university.
“Milo Yiannopoulos has made a career of inflaming racist, sexist and nativist sentiments. Berkeley has a proud history of dissent and students were fully within their rights to protest peacefully,” Lee said. “However, I
am disappointed by the unacceptable acts of violence last night which were counterproductive and dangerous.”
Lee continued, “President Donald Trump cannot bully our university into silence. Simply put, President Trump’s empty threat to cut funding from UC Berkeley is an abuse of power. As a senior member of the education funding subcommittee, I will continue to stand up to President Trump’s overreach and defend the rights of our students and faculty.”
The protests escalated quickly on the UC Berkeley campus ahead of Yiannopoulos’s planned speech at 8 p.m. in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. UC Berkeley police ordered the event canceled around 6 p.m. after protesters breached barricades, smashed windows at the venue and set a large fire on Sproul Plaza.
Tense and sometimes violent protests have followed Yiannopoulos across the country. A UC Davis event was also canceled amid protests. A man was shot and critically wounded outside a speaking engagement in Seattle, reportedly by a Yiannopoulos supporter.
Prior to Wednesday’s scheduled event, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks affirmed that the Berkeley College Republicans had a right to invite Yiannopoulos but discouraged them from doing so, calling him a “troll” and “provocateur” and saying that Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric is at odds with the university’s values.
Dirks sent a new letter to the campus community today, condemning the violence and blaming it on a small group of outside agitators.
“Last night the Berkeley campus was invaded by more than 100 armed individuals clad in Ninja-like uniforms who utilized paramilitary tactics to engage in violent destructive behavior designed to shut the event down,” Dirks wrote.
Once the event was canceled, protesters stayed in the area, ignoring repeated calls for them to disperse from university police officers making announcements from a second floor balcony. Despite threats that
chemical agents and batons would be used, there were few police present on the plaza to enforce the order.
Some event attendees stuck around and mingled with the estimated 1,500 protesters. A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat had his hat slapped away and was hit with an egg. Another attendee was doused with water as the crowd demanded he denounce racism and Trump.
University police said that some members of the crowd were attacked by protesters and then rescued by police. UC police said there were six reports of minor injuries.
One witness recounted seeing a man in a Make America Great Again hat hit with a pole, knocking him to the ground and leaving a pool of blood on the plaza. Police emerged from the building and took him away, according to the witness, who declined to be identified.
The crowd took to the streets and was allowed to move around the campus area and downtown Berkeley unfettered. Masked protesters smashed several downtown businesses and looted a Starbucks near campus.
John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said that at least 10 businesses were damaged by the protest.
Some of the black-clad protesters tried to intimidate bystanders who snapped photos of the destruction, slapping phones out of people’s hands and pushing them away.
Reports of fighting in the crowd continued throughout the night. Berkeley police said there were three or four injuries from fights and reports of a vehicle hitting a pedestrian near the intersection of Telegraph
and Durant avenues.
Despite the violence and destruction, protesters encountered little police presence until they returned to campus and lines of riot police prevented them from reentering Sproul Plaza. UC Berkeley officials said the
campus called in assistance from other UC campuses throughout the state as well as from Oakland police and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
In a statement this morning, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said, “Unfortunately, last night, a small minority of the protesters who had assembled in opposition to a speaking engagement featuring a prominent white nationalist engaged in violence and property damage.”
“They also provided the ultra-nationalist far right exactly the images they want to use to try to discredit the vast majority of peaceful protesters in Berkeley and across America who are deeply concerned about where our country is headed,” Arreguin said.
Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom issued the following statement about free speech at the University of California:
“Hatred has no home on California’s public university campuses in any form, from vitriol to violence. We witnessed both extremes at UC Berkeley’s campus last night, from the racism and misogyny of fly-by-night provocateur and white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos, to the excessive response of a few protestors. Both create fear, neither embody freedom.
“Freedom of speech lives in the fabric of UC Berkeley; Cal is everything Trump University is not. President Trump’s asinine threat to pull funding from Cal showed zero awareness of the real-world implications of a President’s words and actions. Stripping federal funds from UC would only create more innocent victims and more Trump carnage.
“President Trump is quick to attack American students, immigrants, women, the LGBT community, journalists, and our international allies but he is either too weak or too ignorant to stand up to white supremacists and others who spew hatred. That’s why the President and his extremist acolytes like Yiannopoulos need to hear from the resistance, loudly and repeatedly. We must continue to step in and stand up to resist reckless rhetoric and actions in a peaceful and forceful manner.”