UC Berkeley headed for showdown with right-wing commentator

A talk by right-wing commentator Ann Coulter at the University of California at Berkeley has been scrapped as her safety could not be assured by the university (AFP Photo/Alberto E. Rodriguez) (Getty/AFP/File)

Los Angeles (AFP) - The University of California at Berkeley appears headed for a showdown with right-wing commentator Ann Coulter after her planned appearance at the school was canceled over security concerns.

The decision to shelve her April 27 talk at the famously progressive campus came days after opponents and supporters of President Donald Trump clashed in the city.

It also echoed a similar cancellation in February of a planned speech at the university by a right-wing provocateur and former Brietbart editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, following violent protests.

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Coulter reacted angrily to the cancellation on Wednesday, saying in a series of tweets that it amounted to censorship and vowing nonetheless to show up at Berkeley as scheduled.

"I am! At Berkeley next Thursday," she said in one tweet.

She added in another post that she had instructed the Republican student group that invited her "to spare no expense in renting my speaking venue - part of my legal damages."

A spokesman for the university told AFP the school's College Republicans were informed late Tuesday that the event with Coulter had to be scrapped as the safety of the firebrand conservative commentator and the public could not be assured.

"Unfortunately, (campus police) determined that, given currently active security threats, it is not possible to assure that the event could be held successfully," according to a letter sent to the student group.

University spokesman Dan Mogulof said concern about security during the event mounted last week after posters appeared on the walls of campus buildings threatening disruptions.

He added that "targeted threats" on two websites had also been discovered.

- 'Ridiculous demands' -

Last weekend, Berkeley was the scene of fights between pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators that led to at least 21 people being arrested.

Mogulof said campus police had learned that some of the groups that took part in those clashes "planned to target the appearance of Ann Coulter on campus."

The recent unrest has put the spotlight on the university, known as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s.

The Washington Post quoted Coulter as saying that the university had tried to pressure her to cancel her speech by "imposing ridiculous demands" and that she had agreed to all their "silly" requirements.

She told the paper that her speech was to focus on immigration, the subject of one of her books.

"They just up and announced that I was prohibited from speaking anyway," she was quoted as saying. "I feel like the Constitution is important, and that taxpayer-supported universities should not be using public funds to violate American citizens’ constitutional rights."

Mogulof said the university hoped to be able to reschedule Coulter's appearance some time in September, after identifying an appropriate venue and working out security arrangements.

University officials said although the student organization that invited Coulter was independent and was free to welcome whoever they wished at Berkeley, the campus was responsible "for ensuring safety and security during such events."

"In the wake of events surrounding the planned appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos in February, as well as several riots which have occurred in recent weeks in the city of Berkeley, we have increased our scrutiny regarding the time and location of high-profile speakers so that these events can go forward unimpeded," the letter sent to the group said.

Members of the student organization could not be reached for comment.