University of California at Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks affirmed Thursday that controversial Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos will be speaking at the university next week, potentially drawing thousands of protesters to the campus.
The letter comes after a protester was shot and seriously wounded at the University of Washington Friday night, where Yiannopoulos was speaking.
"In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to 'entertain,' but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas," Dirks wrote in an open letter to the campus community.
Yiannopoulos is a leading figure in the "alt-right movement," a growing group of white nationalists who often espouse racist and misogynistic views. The Breitbart editor, who was permanently banned from Twitter for his role in a hate campaign directed at actress Leslie Jones, has been touring college campuses as part of his self-described “Dangerous F*ggot” tour. Yiannopoulos is openly gay.
"He has been widely and rightly condemned for engaging in hate speech directed at a wide range of groups and individuals, as well as for disparaging and ridiculing individual audience members, particularly members of the LGBTQ community," Dirks said.
But, despite protests from students, Dirks said Berkeley College Republicans have a right to invite him to speak. He reiterated that the campus upholds the values of free speech, even when that speech is intolerant and divisive.
The sold-out event will be held at the Pauley Ballroom of the MLK Student Union at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
"While working as a journalist for Breitbart, Milo has earned a reputation for his vocal criticisms of feminism, Islam, political correctness, and social justice," organizers of the speaking engagement wrote. "To his supporters, he is a cultural whirlwind, to his critics, he is a bigoted rabble-rouser, but to everyone, he is nothing short of amusing and provocative."
More than 1,000 people have responded on Facebook that they intend to protest the event.
"The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the far right -- racists, Islamophobes and misogynists are attempting to come out into the light and gain a foothold across the country," protest organizers wrote. "We have to show them that we won't tolerate any rise in far right activity."
Yiannopoulos's other recent campus appearances have led to tense protests, including a joint appearance with pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli at UC Davis, where protesters blocked the entrances and the event was cancelled before the two took stage.
An event for Feb. 2 at UCLA was cancelled earlier this week because organizers with the Bruin Republicans said they were unable to accommodate the requirements from Yiannopoulos's team.
In a response to the UCLA cancellation, Yiannopoulos said, "I travel with bodyguards twenty-four hours a day, and (the tour) is a multimillion-dollar operation with logistical and security requirements like any other celebrity or professional musical tour. We understand some college organisers invite me unaware of this complexity, so we work hard to help them through the process."
Yiannopoulos also complained on Facebook that UC Berkeley was requiring campus Republicans to pay a security fee for the event. But Dirks insisted that the university typically requires event organizers to pay for basic security — a sum that totals up to $10,000.
Berkeley College Republicans will not be responsible for the added costs of security for protests, which Dirks said the campus would pay. He noted that officials would “not stand idly by” while laws are violated, no matter who the perpetrators are.
Dirks also said he told the Berkeley Republicans that while they have a right to host him, Yiannopoulos's rhetoric and actions are at odds with the values of the university.
"Nothing we have done to plan for this event should be mistaken as an endorsement of Yiannopoulos's views or tactics," Dirks said. "Indeed, we are saddened that anyone would use degrading stunts or verbal assaults on marginalized members of our society to promote a political platform."