There is a good deal of confusion surrounding the "Free Speech Week" set to occur later this month at the University of California, Berkeley.
The school says event organizers failed to meet key deadlines, and multiple speakers allegedly scheduled to participate say they never agreed to do so. After a press release sent on behalf of MILO, Inc. last week included them on the list of headline speakers, both Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald said they had never even been contacted about appearing.
But students are pushing back on university administrators who have told the press that organizers missed deadlines and failed to fulfill financial obligations. "We wanted a written explanation about specific charges and why were getting charged those charges, which doesn't seem like too much to ask for," Berkeley Patriot spokesperson Bryce Kasamoto told a local CBS affiliate. "But the university failed to provide that for us."
The students doubled down in a Facebook statement issued by the Berkeley Patriot, a co-sponsor of the event along with MILO, Inc. on Monday. "We're calling out your lies and half truths (with evidence and documentation of course)," they said in a post addressed to the school. "We will not be intimidated by bureaucratic stonewalling." Accompanying the statement was lengthy video narrated by Milo Yiannopoulos that provided screenshots of emails and other evidence showing how the school has impeded students' good faith efforts to organize the event, even including testimonials from several of those student organizers.
It's hard to know what's fact and what's spin, but I'm not inclined to trust Berkeley.
Administrators have used red tape to hamper scheduled speaking events more than once over the past year, attempting to reschedule Ann Coulter's planned lecture to a "dead week" in the spring and then claiming there were no appropriate rooms available to host Ben Shapiro's lecture this fall before later finding a venue after significant pressure from conservative groups.
Given the school's record of taxing conservative speaking events with prohibitive security fees, it would be more than fair for these students to have requested explanations for certain charges. Berkeley had to burn $600,000 on security to keep the peace at Shapiro's lecture last week, so threats of violence from Antifa are costing the school dearly, and some of those charges are probably getting passed down to event sponsors.
At the same time, organizers burned credibility by sending out a press release that included speakers who, by all accounts, were not even aware of the event.
This is a reminder that Berkeley is going to be in a unique position moving forward. The school is obligated both to afford students their First Amendment rights and to keep them safe. That shouldn't be an issue in 2017, but Berkeley's indulgence of violent leftists created a sorry state of affairs for free speech on campus.
The Berkeley Patriot said in a Facebook statement posted Sunday they were "[moving] forward on a version of the event that will consist mostly of outdoor events."
"This arrangement isn't ideal for either party involved, so we would welcome the University choosing to come back to the table and allow us to continue with the indoor venues, but we will move forward with Free Speech Week with the goal of creating an outstanding experience for all who wish to attend," they continued.
It's difficult to imagine how outdoor events featuring high-profile speakers such as Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Steve Bannon will play out on a campus where the threat of violent unrest seems to simmer persistently. What's clear, however, is that as of right now this event looks poised to be chaotic.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.