Trump supporters descended upon the University of California, Berkeley on Thursday to reaffirm the principles of free speech and robust debate after the school canceled a scheduled lecture by conservative author Ann Coulter.
Canadian contrarians Gavin McInnes and Lauren Southern headlined a free speech rally at MLK Park and read an excerpt from Ms. Coulter’s planned speech in her stead.
“They may be able to stop us from speaking on the campus, they may be able to throw punches, to spray pepper spray, throw bricks at us, but they can’t stop an idea,” Ms. Southern said. “They can’t stop the history of this nation and the determination to defend free speech and protect God-given rights.”
Berkeley officials canceled Ms. Coulter’s speech last week citing security concerns and the possibility of violence, but quickly reversed course after a backlash ensued.
Despite the university’s assurance that she was welcome, Ms. Coulter said she had to cancel the speech Wednesday after losing the backing of the student group that invited her, Young Americans for Freedom.
The free speech rally was mostly peaceful, with protesters and hecklers only sparsely populated in the surrounding area.
Among the hundreds of attendees were representatives from Oath Keepers and Bikers for Trump, who said they were there to ensure the event remained peaceful. Many of the participants were clad in black and wore motorcycle helmets.
The excerpt from Ms. Coulter’s speech argued against accepting Muslim immigrants and those in need of government assistance.
“When Trump merely proposed we stop importing people whose religion teaches them to kill us, the media called him a racist,” Mr. McInnes read. “Republicans said that’s not who we are. They know us so well. There are 7 billion people in the world; we don’t have to take any of them. There’s no constitutional right for the rest of the world to move here.
“Immigrants are showing up with a lot of needs and a lot of grievances,” he continued. “Why do we owe them? If you have grievances, go home and address the perpetrators. We owe you nothing. By my reckoning, they owe us.”
Mr. McInnes echoed those sentiments in his own remarks, asking why “American citizens, American immigrants and American millennials” aren’t more grateful to live in America.
“As an immigrant myself, I gotta say, I’m kind of shocked to get here and see the number of ingrates both within my fellow immigrant community and within the American citizen community,” he said.
He also noted that speakers who hold controversial liberal opinions have been allowed to speak on college campuses without the threat of violence.
“You have Linda Sarsour giving a speech at CUNY,” he said, referring to the co-chair of the Day Without a Woman Protest. “No problem with that. This is a woman who supports Shariah law. This is a law where women have half the vote of men, a husband can rape his wife, a man can beat his wife.”
The cancellation of Ms. Coulter’s speech comes less than three months after rioters set fire to the campus in response to a scheduled lecture from conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor.
Young Americans for Freedom and the Berkeley College Republicans filed a lawsuit against the university, arguing the school failed to accommodate the club with a safe venue for the speech, giving them no choice but to cancel it.
“In effect, our free speech has been stifled because the university has decided not to assist us in making sure the event can occur successfully,” Troy Worden, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said in a press conference Wednesday. “We aren’t going to have a dangerous event.”
For his part, Mr. Yiannopoulos has vowed to return to Berkeley in the fall for a whole week.
“My proposed Free Speech Week will proceed as planned later this year,” he said Wednesday on Facebook, breaking out into all capital letters to declare: “I will bring an army if I have to.”