President Donald Trump raised the threat of pulling federal funds from the University of California at Berkeley on Thursday after the institution canceled a talk by provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and put the campus on lockdown after intense protests against the planned speech.
While Trump framed his early morning tweet around free speech and opposition to violent demonstrations, his critics are likely to interpret the message as indirect support for Yiannopoulos, a deeply polarizing figure who portrays himself as a champion of open expression but whose detractors view as a hate-monger.
"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" wrote Trump.
Yiannopoulos also writes for the Breitbart website, whose founder, Stephen K. Bannon, is a key Trump adviser. Yiannopoulos has a large following as a self-proclaimed "free-speech fundamentalist" crusading against political correctness. He was banned from Twitter this summer after sending tweets targeting a black actress.
Some schools have canceled or indefinitely postponed his appearances because they often generate such intense responses.
That leads some to argue that his speech is being censored. Others counter that universities aren't required to pay security and other expenses when students invite speakers.
With free speech an exceptionally volatile issue on campuses across the country — with debate over code words, safe spaces, implicit bias, microagressions, and free-speech — his events have become flash points.
His cross-country tour touched off intense opposition in Berkeley on Wednesday.
The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at Berkeley reported that protesters were chanting, "'No Milo, no Trump, no fascist USA,'" setting off fireworks, throwing rocks and bricks and pounding on windows. They reported that university police later used rubber bullets and tear gas in an attempt to calm the crowd.
"Amid violence, destruction of property and out of concern for public safety, the University of California Police Department determined that it was necessary to remove Milo Yiannopoulos from the campus and to cancel tonight's scheduled 8 p.m. performance," the university announced Wednesday night. The decision was made about two hours before the event, to a crowd of more than 1,500 protesters gathered outside the venue.