There’s no Ann Coulter speech planned. But protesters are converging on Berkeley today. – Washington Post

Ann Coulter’s speech at the University of California at Berkeley was canceled. But the debate and hostility that was unleashed by the controversy over her speech continues.

Demonstrators who participated in other recent violent clashes on Berkeley’s streets announced they would still gather to fight for free speech or to fight against hate speech.

Many appeared to be gearing up Wednesday morning for a confrontation at 2 p.m. local time at a public park, just blocks from the campus.

A coalition of conservatives and far-right groups said they will hold a free speech rally at Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, with some vowing to read a speech Coulter might have given if her event at the university had gone forward. The park has been the site of two other violent clashes in recent weeks when many of the same conservatives brawled with far-left anarchists and antifascists trying to shut the event down.

“Rally is ON! Let’s show these Commies the Right will not be silenced. We were once warriors and WARRIORS AGAIN WE WILL BE!!” wrote Kyle Chapman — a San Francisco Bay-area man, who participated in at least two of the previous rallies that grew violent. Chapman became a hero to many conservatives after a video went viral of him at a Berkeley rally breaking a wooden sign post over the head of a far-left protester.

Oath Keepers, a national militia group made up of former military and law enforcement officers, is assembling a force to protect the conservatives’ rally, issuing a call-out Tuesday night for members to converge on Berkeley for a “new mission” to protect the park.

“We now have a green light on this operation and we call on you to step up with us and help us once again defend free speech,” wrote the founder Steward Rhodes in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

In an earlier message to Oath Keepers members, Rhodes told his members to bring as much gear as possible in anticipation of violence: helmets, mask and goggles in case of tear gas, fire-resistant gloves, body armor and steel-toe boots if possible.

“All roads lead to Berkeley,” Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart writer whose appearance on campus in February sparked riots, wrote on social media Thursday.

It was less clear whether and when antifascists and far-left activists may show up to try to shut down the conservatives’ rally, as they have repeatedly in recent weeks. In recent weeks, the antifascist groups in the area have stopped posting on public forums, as authorities in Berkeley and elsewhere have begun focusing attention on them and their violent responses to the provocation of conservatives.

On social media, however, many in the anarchist and antifascist camps pointed to Coulter’s cancellation as proof their use of violence as a tool works.

The principal of Berkeley High School, which is adjacent to the park, announced precautions and asked students and parents to avoid the protest area, according to a letter printed in Berkleyside. The news site also printed an advisory from the city that included this advice: “Don’t get baited by provocateurs. Language used to announce a protest may be effective at enticing supporters, luring counter-demonstrators or provoking conflict.”

Berkeley, home to the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, has become the center of a pitched battle in recent months. Antifascist and anarchist protesters turned a crowd of students protesting Yiannopoulos in February into a violent mob breaking windows and setting fires, and police advised university officials to cancel his speech. When they did, and protests continued, President Trump raised the threat of pulling federal funding for the public university.

In recent weeks, protests in the city of Berkeley saw repeated violent clashes between the far left and the far right.

When student groups invited conservative commentator Coulter to speak, university officials tried to postpone the event until the fall because of safety concerns, then reversed course and asked her to come next week, when they could provide a safer venue for her speech. Berkeley College Republicans and the national group Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit saying the school had violated their right to free speech. On Wednesday, Coulter announced the speech was canceled.

Many people responded with anger about threats to free speech.

 

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