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Trump Threatens to Defund UC Berkeley for Suppressing Free Speech. Can He?

By  James Barrett

On Thursday, President Trump responded to the anti-free speech riot that engulfed University of California Berekely the night before by threatening to cut off federal funds if it “does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view.”

“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.

The chaotic riot — which featured cowardly masked “anti-fascist” rioters screaming “Kill Trump” and “Kill Fascists,” beating down Trump supporters, assaulting girls with pepper spray, destroying both public and private property on and off the campus, and hurling objects at police officers — forced even the establishment media to admit that some “violence” had occurred — though all the usual mainstream suspects stubbornly referred to the rioters as “protesters,” or else insisted that a few radicals had “infiltrated” the “peaceful” protests of … free speech on college campus.

All the violence, destruction and outrage was in reaction to the presence of gay conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopolous, who dared to voice on campus things the protesters/rioters did not like. Yiannopoulos, who has been banned from Twitter for his association with Alt-Right Twitter trolls, issued his own statement Thursday night highlighting Trump’s threat and touting his own role in the “change” coming.

“American universities are on notice,” he wrote. “The President is watching. 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.”

The UC Berkeley administration has responded to all the leftist violence and national attention by issuing a statement underscoring the university’s commitment to free speech, opposition to violence, and disapproval of Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric (full statement below).

Leftist U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) decried Trump’s tweet as “an abuse of power,” but can he actually defund a public institution if it fails to defend constitutionally protected free speech? After all, President Obama had issued a similar threat about schools failing to uphold his transgender agenda. Here’s a slightly anxious NBC News‘ take on the issue:

The stakes are huge. The University of California receives billions of dollars in federal funds, including 2.9 billion for research, the category that is most vulnerable to Trump’s threat. Berkeley, the system’s flagship campus, receives about $370 million of that. In addition, the nearby Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is entirely supported by federal funds — $827 million.

The university’s other sources of federal support — financial aid for students, Pell Grants, work-study programs, fellowships with government agencies and campus healthcare programs — are more difficult to tinker with.

NBC cites American Enterprise Institute’s director of education policy Frederick Hess, who said that he knew of no prior instance of federal funding to universities being linked to free speech; however, President Obama’s rule by executive fiat, in this case his highly controversial transgender edict, could end up coming back to haunt the Left. Will Trump really try to push the issue? Probably not, but one thing’s undeniable: Obama cracked the door for future administrations to meddle even more in education.

More on the Berkeley riot:

Berkeley, CNN, & Pussyhats: Left Repeats Same Mistakes That Turned Wisconsin Red

Shapiro Slams Berkeley Response To Riot: ‘Did They Move On The People Spray-Painting, “Kill Trump?”‘

Below is the full statement from UC Berkeley:

UC Berkeley condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions of individuals who invaded the campus, infiltrated a crowd of peaceful students and used violent tactics to close down the event. We deeply regret that the violence unleashed by this group undermined the First Amendment rights of the speaker as well as those who came to lawfully assemble and protest his presence.

The university went to extraordinary lengths to facilitate planning and preparation for this event, working in close concert with the Berkeley College Republicans. Dozens of police officers were brought in from UC campuses across the state. Numerous crowd-control measures were put in place. But, we could not plan for the unprecedented. Last night the Berkeley campus was invaded by more than 100 armed individuals clad all in black who utilized paramilitary tactics to engage in violent, destructive behavior designed to shut the event down. At that point the University of California Police Department concluded that the speaker had to be evacuated from campus for his own safety, thereby bringing the event to an end.

For the campus police, the primary objective is always the safety and well-being of our students and the public. That is what informs their strategies and tactics. In that context we are relieved that, as of now, there have been no reports of serious injuries.

We are proud of our history and legacy as the home of the Free Speech Movement. While we have made clear our belief that the inflaming rhetoric and provocations of Mr. Yiannopoulos were in marked opposition to the basic values of the university, we respected his right to come to campus and speak once he was invited to do so by a legitimate student group. The violence last night was an attack on the fundamental values of the university, which stands for and helps to maintain and nurture open inquiry and an inclusive civil society, the bedrock of a genuinely democratic nation. We are now, and will remain in the future, completely committed to free speech as essential to our educational mission and a vital component of our identity at UC Berkeley.

Nicholas Dirks

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