ANALYSIS: One year later, Berkeley hasn't changed
- It's been exactly one year since the University of California, Berkeley's campus was consumed by riots, though conservatives on campus allege that not much has changed.
- Although the school's new chancellor deemed this academic year one of free speech, Republican students continue to face the same fights.
In December 1964, the University of California, Berkeley was at the epicenter of a major social revolution: thousands of students stormed the school’s Sproul Hall, urging the administration to protect their freedom of political expression. Exactly one year ago, waves of violent riots ripped through the same campus in an effort to stifle the political views of a popular provocateur.
Not everyone joined Berkeley's contemporary rebellion. For a year, a small group of conservative students waged a campaign to defend political expression and rediscover the spirit of free-speech activism that dominated the 1960's. But despite their best efforts, progress has not been swift.
“I haven’t seen protests like this since Afghanistan”
Naweed Tahmas, a UC Berkeley student and the external vice president of the College Republicans chapter, recalled last year’s riots with staggering clarity. On the night of the chaotic protests, demonstrators threw bricks and other debris at the windows, voicing their disdain for a conservative provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, and his message.
Frightened by the turmoil, Naweed remembers asking a security guard if he ever saw riots of this scale before.
“I haven’t seen protests like this since Afghanistan,” the guard replied. Naweed, and several of his fellow conservative classmates, endured a terrifying night of hiding, running, and evacuating as they were chased and stalked by an angry mob.
It did not take long for observers to question the university for its apparent lack of security and policing on campus. At the time, Berkeley’s chancellor and chief of police dismissed the criticism, refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing in their actions.
Former Chancellor Nicholas Dirks even argued that the school’s reputation as a champion of free speech has not been "tarnished at all,” and that the coverage of the protests was merely distorted by “political agendas.”
The battle against Antifa
In the months that followed the anti-free speech riots, conservative students at Berkeley faced a new wave of resistance that quickly spread across the entire country. Antifa was on a mission to capitalize on the early anti-Trump sentiment, bullying Republicans of all ages into submission.
Despite establishing unofficial chapters in hundreds of different cities, Berkeley’s Antifa members were some of the most aggressive activists in the United States. Organizations such as By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) targeted conservative students online by publicly disclosing where they hold meetings and even eat lunch.
In late August, College Republicans member Ashton Whitty and a handful of her friends were targeted by multiple Antifa activists who stalked the group at a small gas station and attacked their vehicles as they fled the scene.
“Antifa has taken pictures of me, they've followed me on the street, and have tracked my location using social media,” Whitty remarked. “It's rather odd why these people would see us as such a priority when we're just everyday people.”
16 Navy SEALs
In the fall, freedom of expression at Berkeley was given a second chance at life. In a surprising development, the school’s new chancellor, Carol Christ, unveiled the university’s “free-speech year” as she welcomed incoming students, and stressed that “particularly now, it is critical for the Berkeley community to protect this right; it is who we are.”
The UC Berkeley conservatives, however, were not convinced.
“Given the university's repeated practice of hiding behind vague security concerns, arbitrary curfews, and fees to silence conservative speech, I have little confidence that the university will not continue to engage in these unconstitutional practices, whether sanctioned by the most recent version of their speech policy, or not,” Tahmas told Campus Reform in August.
Questions were also raised about the school's new interim policy and the potential security expenses that would have to be covered by the organization that decided to host a large-scale public event. In theory, the security fees could be astronomical, and prevent conservative organizations from hosting any controversial speakers.
The following month, Yiannopoulos decided to test the school’s “free speech year” by hosting a “free speech week” at the heart of Berkley’s campus. The provocateur also promised that “nothing will deter” the planned extravaganza, claiming he would bring a 16-man Navy SEAL team for security.
Yiannopoulos followed through on his promise to return to Berkeley, but only for a 15 minute speech. Citing pressure from the administration, Berkeley Patriot, a student group that had organized the four-day event, withdrew its sponsorship of the Free Speech Week shortly before its slated start.
Troy and Yvette
Troy Worden was the leader of the Berkeley College Republicans and a prominent conservative figure on campus. Yvette Felarca is a school teacher, leader of BAMN, and an activist with a history of inciting violence against her opponents. Both, however, would find themselves at the heart of Berkeley's public turmoil for much of 2017.
In an effort to discredit her political enemy, Felarca landed the first punch by accusing Worden of “stalking women.” Soon thereafter, the repeated public accusations resulted in a restraining order, which the BAMN activist successfully filed against Worden in early September.
Worden, however, was not deterred by Felarca’s tactics, and decided to fight the Antifa leader in the court of law. In October, Worden claimed his first legal victory by touting the dismissal of Felarca’s temporary restraining order.
“I feel vindicated by the termination of the temporary restraining order placed on me by Yvette Felarca of By Any Means Necessary and the dismissal of the permanent restraining order she was pursuing just this week," Worden said at the time.
In January, the conservative student leader went on to win his final lawsuit against Felarca, with the court ordering the Antifa activist to pay Worden $11,000 in damages and attorney fees.
Despite their recent round of minor victories, the conservative students at UC Berkeley are still fighting for freedom of speech and expression on their campus. Just this week, Tahmas blasted the school’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Californian, for allegedly rejecting his op-ed on immigration due to his conservative arguments.
“I am disappointed that after The Daily Californian requested I write an op-ed on DACA, they now refuse to publish it,” the student said in a statement. “I was looking forward to having a conversation with readers. This is the same paper that has published op-eds by the Berkeley Antifa and other anarchists justifying and advocating for the violent shutdown of our events.”
The Daily Californian did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.
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