Milo Yiannopoulos holds protest signs while speaking at the University of California, Berkeley on Sunday. (REUTERS/Noah Berger)
Rightwing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos blew kisses, posed for selfies and addressed a few dozen supporters at the University of California, Berkeley, while a slightly larger crowd protesting his appearance was kept separate by police.
Yiannopoulos, wearing sunglasses and an American flag hoodie under a denim jacket, spoke without amplification Sunday on the steps of Sproul Hall. Fans hoping to hear his speech were herded through metal detectors, while demonstrators protesting it were kept behind barricades on Sproul Plaza. There were no indications of initial violence, Fox 2 reported.
Yiannopoulos vowed Saturday to appear at an unsanctioned rally despite the cancellation of a planned four-day event dubbed Free Speech Week.
The conservative student group Berkeley Patriot, which had been organizing the event with Yiannopoulos, told university administrators that they would cancel it, the university said. The group's representatives told the San Francisco Chronicle they feared for their safety.
A fire set by demonstrators protesting a scheduled speaking appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos burns on Sproul Plaza at the University of California, Berkeley campus, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP)
"It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement was made at the last minute, even as the University was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life in order to provide the needed security for these events," UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said in a statement.
Yiannopoulos said he was blindsided and "personally irritated" by the news, but he insisted on holding a rally with fellow rightwing commentators Sunday.
"We are going to be hosting an event come hell or high water tomorrow," Yiannopoulos said in a live video on Facebook and vowed to proceed with or without UC Berkeley's or the students' cooperation.
University officials said they had worked around-the-clock and spent more than $1 million to ensure there would be adequate security for the events.
A group has put up flyers and a booth on Sproul Plaza calling for protesters to "Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos," at the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif. (AP)
Berkeley's reputation as a liberal stronghold and the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement has made the city and campus flashpoints for the country's political divisions since the election of Republican President Donald Trump. Since February, four political demonstrations have turned violent with masked anarchists rioting on campus.
Yiannopoulos' attempt to speak at Berkeley in February was shut down by masked anarchists who rioted on campus.
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"Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact," Mogulof said. "The university was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization."
Campus Police Chief Margo Bennett said authorities were "going to be prepared and handle things that may happen when a speaker can just show up." She said anyone can come to the open plaza to speak, but they can't use amplified sound without permission or interfere with the business of the university.
Over the last few days, student bulletin boards on Sproul Plaza were papered with fliers calling on counterprotesters to "Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos," saying his brand of inflammatory speech against Muslims, immigrants, women and transgender people was hateful and should not be allowed. The fliers advised supporters to bring bandannas to cover their faces in case police fire tear gas.
Later in the afternoon, Yiannopoulos left Sproul Plaza, reported KTVU on Twitter.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.