President Donald Trump and his top staff on Thursday moved to defend controversial right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
On Wednesday, the University of California, Berkeley, canceled an appearance by the inflammatory Breitbart editor after a protest of the event turned ugly, as some demonstrators set fires, hurled objects at police officers, and broke windows in several storefronts.
Wednesday’s event began as expected: Yiannopoulos arrived and protesters swarmed, noting his far-right nationalist sympathies and history of incidents in which he has been accused of waging harassment campaigns. But the scene became chaotic when, according to the university “masked agitators” arrived to cause mayhem, disturbing what would have otherwise been a peaceful protest.
The demonstration garnered coverage across multiple cable news networks, and eventually prompted a response from the president himself.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
On “Fox and Friends” on Thursday, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway also weighed in on the protests, claiming the protesters “don’t welcome free speech” and that students on college campuses were waging war on the First Amendment.
“I don’t know if they even know what they’re protesting. I’d love to do this big survey nationwide and ask everybody outside these airports, on college campuses, what’s got you so in a lather? I mean, really, is it free speech? Having somebody on your campus who has a dissenting point of view, or wants to present an alternative point of view?” Conway said.
She added: “In the real world, when these kids grow up and try to find jobs, which they will in the Trump economy — life doesn’t work that way, folks. You’re going to work with people who disagree with you, who aren’t just cosseting you in this protective environment.”
Trump’s tweet didn’t come as a surprise to many observers, who noted the provocateur’s close relationship with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon formerly ran Breitbart, and he performed tasks like hiring several former Navy SEALs specifically to protect Yiannopoulos at the Republican National Convention.
For his part, Yiannopoulos heralded the White House’s involvement as a major victory.
“American universities should be on notice. The President is watching,” Yiannopoulos told Business Insider. “The days you could silence conservative and libertarian voices on campus and still expect to collect their tax money are coming to an end. I am the catalyst for this change. I’m confident Trump and his team are watching closely and will act decisively.”
Breitbart also appeared appreciative of the support.
The far right website characterised the tweet as a “Sheriff Trump Throwdown,” a headline that led the site for hours Thursday morning.
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