Berkeley’s mayor tweeted an apology for calling Milo Yiannopoulos a “white nationalist” in a statement following a Breitbart article accused him of inciting violence and “smearing” a controversial editor known for his polarizing rhetoric and offensive speech.
Mayor Jesse Arreguin’s original statement called for inclusion and peaceful protests. But he also called Yiannopoulos a white nationalist in an emailed statement, which has been since taken offline.
"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," he said in a statement sent to the news media and which he also posted online. His tweet has since been deleted.
In an article on Breitbart, Yiannopoulos demanded an apology.
Later Thursday, Arreguin modified his statement to call Yiannopolous a "prominent alt-rightist." He did not provide an explanation.
Speaking to NBC Bay Area, Arreguin also bristled at President Donald Trump's threat to cut federal funding to UC Berkeley, if the university does not support free speech and condones violence.
"Just because you disagree with the views of Berkeley residents doesn’t mean that it gives you the right to bully us and to cut funding for not only research, but education," he said.
The cancellation of Yiannopoulos' speech, the destruction to businesses in downtown Berkeley, and the Breitbart articles prompted a barrage of hateful tweets on Arreguin's social media account. The internet users questioned law enforcement's handling of the protest, denigrated his Latino heritage and questioned his birthplace in Fresno.
Breitbart has promoted conspiracy theories and was described by its former chief as "the platform of the alt-right." The alt-right is an Internet-based movement widely seen as espousing white supremacist and anti-Semitic views.
Yiannopoulos has equated feminism to bowel cancer, frequently targets Muslims and students of color, and has called out transgender students by name in his speeches. He was banned from Twitter for inspiring a racist harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones.
He claims he speaks out in the name of free speech and to fight against political correctness, especially on college campuses.
But Yiannopolous, who calls himself an Internet troll, wasn’t satisfied with the term "alt-rightist" either.
The description "attributes to MILO an ideology he has repeatedly rejected. MILO is demanding a second apology and retraction," Breitbart's follow-up article complained. Breitbart News did not return an email requesting comment.
His speech at UC Berkeley was cancelled Wednesday night amid a large protest when some demonstrators set a generator on fire and smashed the windows of the student union.
He was invited to speak by the Berkeley College Republicans. UC administrators said that as a public university, they were legally bound by the First Amendment to protect free speech, meaning even offensive and hate speech cannot be banned or censored.