Thursday night’s Fake News Panel, hosted by Cal Poly College Republicans and Cal Poly’s Turning Point USA chapter, had relatively few protesters and extensive security precautions by the university. The panel, which featured controversial right-wing political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and YouTube personalities Austen Fletcher, known online as Fleccas, and Carl Benjamin, known as Sargon of Akkad, drew about 25 protesters as opposed to the 50 to 60 protesters at Yiannopoulos’ last appearance on campus in January 2017.
Yiannopoulos’ visit to Cal Poly last year during his “Dangerous Faggot” college tour incited student protests and a security force of roughly 100 police officers. Anticipating safety concerns this year, the University Police Department (UPD) increased their security efforts compared to last year. This included bringing in police officers from other California State Universities (CSU) and establishing a SWAT team presence. All of Mustang Way in front of Mott Athletics Center, where the event was located, was blocked off.
University spokesperson Matt Lazier said the university did not yet have an exact count of how many officers were brought in for the panel. Before the event, UPD Chief George Hughes estimated the amount spent on security this year would be similar to the $55,000 to $60,000 spent in 2017.
Since Yiannopoulos visited Cal Poly
Yiannopoulos resigned his position as an editor for far-right news source Breitbart News Network in February 2017 after video surfaced in which Yiannopoulos made comments that seemed to condone statutory rape and sexual relationships between young boys and grown men.
In July 2017, Yiannopoulos sued the publishing company Simon & Schuster for $10 million for breach of contract. Simon & Schuster editors also left harsh edits on the manuscript of Yiannopoulos’ “Dangerous,” which was published to the New York State Court’s website as part of the case. Comments like, “Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke,” and, “Unclear, unfunny, delete,” were scattered throughout the full document.
Yiannopoulos dropped his lawsuit against Simon & Schuster in February 2018.
According to the Guardian, Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from Twitter in July 2016 for instigating abuse of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones.
Support for Yiannopoulos
Civil engineering freshman Evan McCollough attended the panel and said he supports many of Yiannopoulos’ views.
“He’s a Trump supporter, I’m a big Trump supporter. Some of the stuff he says is definitely risqué, but [in] my opinion, it’s free speech,” McCollough said. “It’s sort of sad, honestly, that we have to spend this money to protect our First Amendment rights. I appreciate the university coming together, helping us out, protecting us, it means a lot.”
Protesting the event
English senior James Cropp held a “Fuck White Supremacy” sign opposite of security and the event attendees. Cropp said he rejects Yiannopoulos’ views and questioned the university’s decision to have a large police presence.
“I adamantly disagree with all the things Milo stands for, ideologically. You see all these people on the secured side of the fence with their police battalion from all the CSUs and then you see maybe 100 people here who are opposed to this,” Cropp said. “You begin to wonder, one — who the fucking cops serve, and two — who does the CSU really care about?”
Cropp was one of a handful of people who brought signs to protest the event. Psychology senior Bria Brickman sat next to the barrier with a sign that read “Free Speech ≠ Hate Speech.” Brickman said she was disappointed with the protest turnout.
“I’m sad there [are] not as many protesters this year. I do know there was something sent out that police were tipped off about the possibility of people protesting and I think a lot of people are not out here because of fear,” Brickman said.
Other events were offered at the same time as the panel Thursday for students to attend. See page 5 for more.
NAACP and anti-fascist group visit
A small group of members from San Luis Obispo’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) played instruments across from the Fake News Panel and held signs advocating for peace, including one which read, “LOVE IS INVINCIBLE.” Member of NAACP and San Luis Obispo local Dominica Garcia said Cal Poly’s environment needs to improve.
“This environment that we are living in — the hatred that seems to be pervasive all over — it’s not going away and it seems to be especially condoned and tolerated on this campus,” Garcia said. “We are here to spread a message of love, peace and tolerance, unlike the person who is speaking at this forum.”
Arriving after all the Fake News Panel attendees entered Mott Athletics Center, a group of protesters began to hang signs along the barrier fence. The protesters wore masks over their faces and carried black and red flags, which they said represented anarchism and communism.
Vern, an individual who preferred not to share their full name, was among the masked protesters. They said the group was protesting not just Yiannopoulos’ visit, but racism on Cal Poly’s campus in general.
“We’re here right now not just because Milo is here, but everything else going on with all this blackface, with the Armstrong administration allowing this racist flag to fly,” Vern said. “He says he wants a community and a cohesive unity, but he brings people that are here specifically to disunify and tear the community apart. So just as much fuck Armstrong as fuck Milo.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Yiannopoulos came to Cal Poly in February 2017. It has been changed to January 2017.