In the wake of rioting at UC Berkeley earlier this month that resulted in multiple assaults and caused up to $100,000 in property damage, the college said the events took them by surprise. They asserted that the violent protests—sparked by an appearance by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos—weren’t something that they ever could have anticipated.
But emails between the college and officials with the city of Berkeley’s Mayoral Office seem to contradict that notion. The emails, acquired by Heat Street through the California Public Records Act, show that UC Berkeley had actually written to city officials in the days leading up to the event warning about the possibility of large numbers of “off campus protesters” and the potential for the protests to “spill over into adjacent streets and neighborhood.”
In addition, the emails also reveal that an anarchist group that has claimed responsibility for sparking the chaos emailed city officials more than a week before the event to inform them that they were planning to “defend” the college from hate speech.
The unrest at Berkeley on Feb. 1 wasn’t the first time that a Milo Yiannopoulos event has bubbled over. Protesters have frequently targeted Yiannopoulos during his “Dangerous Faggot” campus tour in an effort to disrupt the events or shut them down all together. According to the free speech foundation FIRE, Yiannopoulos was the speaker most likely to be barred from the speaking at universities in 2016.
But the protests at Berkeley were by far the most serious and violent at a Milo Yiannopoulos event to date.
In the runup to his appearance at the school, city authorities—including Mayor Jesse Arreguin—and university officials were regularly in touch, the emails show. UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Vice Chancellor Carol Christ and Communications Director Ruben Lizardo even brought up the event during a meeting with the Mayor on February 1.
The exact discussion that occurred during the meeting wasn’t disclosed in the emails, but the Mayor wrote after the meeting: “Thank you very much Ruben for providing [UC Berkeley officials’] contact information and for your attention to this situation.”
In an email exchange a day before the event, Lizardo wrote to city officials informing them that the university was expecting many protesters from “off campus,” and that the protests might not be contained. He wrote:
We anticipate that large numbers of attendees and/or protesters from on and off campus; and the potential for protests to spill over into the adjacent streets and neighborhood.
But this wasn’t the first time the City of Berkeley had been alerted to the possibility of a significant disruption during the Yiannopoulos visit. On January 24, it received an email from “By All Means Necessary,” the radical anarchist collective that would later claim responsibility for spearheading the unrest and shutting down the Feb. 1 event.
“We call on the Berkeley City Council to join the hundreds of UCB students, professors and countless Bay Area community members to demand that UCB cancel the Milo Yiannopoulos event,” the group said. “Hate speech is not free speech and racist, sexist, and transphobic harassment and verbal assaults are not welcome on the campus or in the community.”
The missive from the anarchists concluded: “Berkeley must defend its own citizens against hate crime.”
The anarchist group’s name alone, “By All Means Necessary” (a reference to Malcolm X’s call to violence), should have given city officials pause.
Taken in toto, these e-mails—from UC Berkeley, from the anarchists and from city officials—seems to contradict claims by the city and the university after the riots that they couldn’t have anticipated what happened.
During the violent protest on Feb. 1, the rioters used police battering rams to break doors, hurled bricks and rocks at police and windows, and vandalized multiple buildings, according to multiple reports. Several people, including women, were assaulted by the rioters. One video claims to show Yiannopoulos’ supporters being chased down and “beaten unconscious with metal poles.”
In an interview with Heat Street this week, UC Berkeley Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof rejected the idea that the university had any warning that the protests could spiral out of control. He also disputed the notion that the college didn’t fully prepare for possible unrest.
UC Berkeley has a “deep and long experience with people who are not affiliated with campus” but who participate in campus protests, he said over the phone. “We were completely prepared based on past experience,” he said.
He reiterated the university’s position that the participation of “By All Means Necessary” in the protests was “unprecedented.”
The City of Berkeley did not respond to requests for comment.