Milo’s Dumb “Free Speech” Stunt Cost UC-Berkeley $800K and Nothing Really Happened – Mother Jones
To look across UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza as Milo Yiannoloupos kicked off his much hyped
“Free Speech Week” on Sunday was to see a vast expanse of mostly empty concrete, and in the distance, a small gaggle of Milo devotees at the plaza’s northern edge. They were waving signs—“Feminism is cancer,” “Dangerous Faggot [heart],” “Milo is Love, Milo Is Life, Milo is Liberty.” They, presumably, were making a lot of noise, but from a few hundred feet out, you’d barely notice them if you weren’t looking for them.
Even still, Yiannoloupos, never one to shy from the spotlight, was basking in whatever glory this provided. Police had cordoned off the inner plaza where Yiannoloupos spoke. They were letting in fans and detractors alike, but slowly, and subject to a metal detector. So at noon, while hundreds of people protesting the event were crowded at the university’s southern entrance behind police barricades, Yiannoloupos entered from the north, walking to the sparsely attended plaza while linked arm-in-arm with Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller. With his famously decorative hair, the far right provocateur wore an American flag-patterned sweatshirt under a denim jacket, topped off with his typical giant sunglasses.
With Sproul Plaza’s steps serving as his stage, he gave a brief speech, absent of amplification, and signed his fans’ posters and took selfies. He criticized the National Football League players who have kneeled in protest during the national anthem, and then led a prayer “for the protesters who don’t know what they’re doing.” He sang the National Anthem. And as abruptly as he’d entered, he left.
It all took place, as the University of California Police Department Chief Margo Bennett later put it, in front of “a crowd—um, a group—of about 25 to 30 people.” And it was all over in about 25 minutes. “Milo is leaving,” I heard one protester say to a friend. “What?” the other responded. “Already?” For something that was originally billed as a four-day extravaganza with a murderer’s row of far-right speakers, few words were delivered in the end.
Yiannoloupos would later lament the “hundreds” of fans he said the university prevented from entering, but the reality was that he came and went in less than a half hour, never really giving his own fans—or even his detractors who often fuel the clashes on which he thrives—a chance to join the charade. “It’s unclear to us why Mr. Yiannopoulos decided to start speaking when he did, and why he decided to end when he did—people were still coming in from the enclosed area,” said Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley’s spokesman at a press conference later that day.
It was “probably the most expensive photo op in the university’s history,” said Mogulof. The unofficial estimate from the university on Sunday was that it cost the university approximately $800,000 and drew a total crowd
of 700 to 800 people who mostly remained outside the inner Sproul Plaza barricades. Some were fans of Yiannopoulos and President Trump, sporting MAGA hats, Milo t-shirts, and wrapped in American flags; the vast majority were not. Protesters chanted and arguments broke out, but the clashing remained verbal. The police presence was enormous, including dozens on motorcycle, an armored vehicle, and rows of cops in riot gear. When a reporter asked Mogulof if the show of force was overkill, he responded, “Hindsight is a beautiful thing.”
Coloring that hindsight is a theory, reported by The Mercury News over the weekend, that the Free Speech Week flop was actually what
Yiannopoulos and the student organizers from the Berkeley Patriot wanted. On Saturday morning, Mogulof sent reporters an e-mail exchange between himself and Lucian Wintrich, an editor at the right-wing website Gateway Pundit who was scheduled to speak and later dropped out in frustration.
“It was known that they didn’t intend to actually go through with it last week, and completely decided on Wednesday,” wrote Wintrich.
“Wait, Whoah [sic], hold on a second,” Mogulof responded. “What, exactly, are you saying? What were you told by MILO Inc? Was it a set-up from the get-go?”
“Yes,” wrote Wintrich.
But this reading—that Yiannopoulos masterminded an intentional failure to reignite his status as a tireless defender of free speech—would be