To see what free speech looks like in 2017 at the birthplace of the famed movement, consider the elaborate preparations underway for a talk Thursday by a conservative writer.
Ben Shapiro isn’t nearly as controversial as some right-wing speakers who have roiled the campus over the last year.
Nonetheless, UC Berkeley has told students that counseling is available to those stressed by all the commotion. A large swath of the campus will be closed off, including the plaza where the free speech movement began in the 1960s. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on security, and police now can use pepper spray on protesters after a 20-year-old ban was lifted by the City Council this week.
Shapiro’s appearance is a key test for Berkeley, which has been hit by a series of violent clashes between far-left and far-right agitators that have sparked soul-searching in this liberal community about the line between protest and criminal behavior. Berkeley has become a favorite spot for far-right demonstrators to speak out, knowing they can get attention and push buttons in enemy territory.
The Thursday event marks the start of a parade of right-wing speakers who may be coming to campus over the next month. They include former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who announced that they will appear as part of a “Free Speech Week” event on campus.
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