Members of the student group that invited alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to UC Berkeley say they have been physically assaulted and targeted online in the days since Wednesday’s fiery protests.
“We’re probably the most harassed group on campus right now,” said Naweed Tahmas, a member of the Berkeley College Republicans. He noted that the club needed a security detail for a meeting last Thursday, a sign that tensions between the group and the area's liberal-leaning majority may have hit an apex.
“I’ve been spit on, my friends have been punched … our pictures have been posted online,” Tahmas said. “I’ve been followed when I was walking back from campus. Some guy came up to us and said, ‘I’ll catch you in the shadows.’ That sounded like a threat to us.”
Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart editor known for espousing racist,transphobic and misogynistic views, was slated to speak to a crowd of about 500 at the behest of the conservative group. Police canceled the speech after a bloc of protesters broke windows, started fires and tried to storm the building in which Yiannopoulos was located.
— Gillian Edevane (@GillianNBC) February 2, 2017
Many have speculated that the para-militarized bloc, clad in all black and wielding crowbars, were outsiders who came to campus. Students and administrators have since come out and condemned Wednesday's violence, which took place at what was designed to be a peaceful demonstration.
“I’ve dealt with people being intolerant to my political views on campus,” said group member Bradley Devlin, who describes himself as a moderate Republican. “But these people were seeking blood.”
Although some students have shown club members support since the protest, hostility and anger toward them has increased since Wednesday's events, Tahmas and Devlin said. When they hand out fliers in the campus hub, it's not uncommon for them to be spit on or have expletives yelled at them.
People with loose affiliations to the group have also been targeted. Several people told NBC Bay Area that they have been sent nefarious emails from a person threatening to “doxx” them, a practice in which personal information is leaked online. (Yiannopoulos' supporters have also been accused of doxxing in the past.)
The emails stem from an incident Thursday, when club members were handing out fliers and a contact information sheet was stolen.
Some people who signed up to learn more information about Berkeley College Republicans got this email after a contact sheet was stolen: pic.twitter.com/AEZr5nP2YC
— Gillian Edevane (@GillianNBC) February 7, 2017
It appears the person threatening to release the information erroneously believes it to be a roster of people who planned to attend the Yiannopoulos event. In fact, the list is mostly made up of people who are not members of Berkeley College Republicans but were interested in learning more about the group.
“I fully plan to publish the list of your names as attendees at the aforementioned campus event,” the email, signed by a blogger identifying himself as OLAASM, warned. “I don’t believe that participation – support – of an event of this nature should be shrouded in secrecy. I believe it is in the public interest to know who is doing this kind of thing.”
A spokesperson for UCPD said the department is looking into the incident but noted that the emails have not yet reached a criminal level. Tahmas believes the messages are tantamount to punishing a person for seeking alternative viewpoints on an issue.
Paul Iskajyan, a third-year political science student at UC Berkeley, signed the list to get updates on the group. He said he is “wholly opposed” to Yiannopoulos and says his views “greatly conflict” with that of the Berkeley College Republicans.
“A small part of me is worried that someone on the fringes might find this on the internet,” Iskajyan said.
Yiannopoulos has a history of targeting individuals with whom he disagrees politically. At a University of Milwaukee speaking engagement, he singled out and mocked a transgender student. Rumors swirled after the event that the Breitbart editor planned to read out a list of names of undocumented students at UC Berkeley, a claim Yiannopoulos denied.
Still, members of the Berkeley College Republicans maintain that the controversial editor should have been able to go on with his appearance, which may be rescheduled. Some are even going so far as to say he is the leader of a new free speech movement.
“Well, he’s a symbol of free speech for us," Tahmas said. "Whether we like it or not, maybe we could have a better vehicle. That’s not up to me."
Tahmas said the controversy surrounding Yiannopoulos’ visit has made the group more popular than ever — a silver lining for him, and a regrettable outcome for those who sought to silence Yiannopoulos last week.
“There’s definitely a silver lining there, but I wish it didn’t come to that,” he said. “But it did increase the membership, and the administration is taking us more seriously now.”