A protest turned violent Wednesday night at the University of California at Berkeley campus, where the polarizing head of an iconoclastic far-right website was scheduled to speak.
Milo Yiannopoulos was invited by the campus Republican club to speak, but university officials canceled the event shortly before it was to begin, citing safety concerns.
Hundreds of protesters smashed windows, set fires and clashed with police as they forced the cancelation of Yiannopoulos' appearance at the liberal-leaning institution. About 1,000 people had gathered on the campus, local media reported.
Two hours before the speech, protesters tossed metal barricades and rocks through the building’s windows and set a generator on fire near the entrance, footage from news outlets showed.
President Donald Trump expressed contempt for the protesters in a message posted on Twitter early Thursday. "If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" he tweeted.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
Police ordered protesters to disperse as the school put the campus on lockdown. Protesters also tossed bricks and fireworks at police in riot gear who fired rubber pellets back at the crowd, according to SFGate.com, a news outlet in San Francisco.
Yiannopoulos, 32, is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump. He is also a self-proclaimed internet troll and was banned last year from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones, who is African-American.
The Berkeley student Republican club had sponsored his visit to the campus.
Pieter Sittler, a spokesman for the Berkeley College Republicans, told the Associated Press the club doesn’t support everything Yiannopoulos says, but “he gives a voice to repressed conservative thought on American college campuses.” He uses “levity and humor” that should not be taken literally, Sittler said.
University officials stressed they do not endorse Yiannopoulos’ ideas, which have been criticized as racist, misogynistic, anti-Muslim and white supremacist. But they say the university is committed to free speech and so did not initially prohibit his appearance.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.