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As a planned visit by conservative commentator Ann Coulter nears, tensions at the University of California, Berkeley, continue to rise.
Campus officials — fearing that Coulter's visit would be met with the scenes of violence and vandalism that, for many, have embodied the Berkeley campus lately — have said that they may not even allow Coulter to speak.
As Fox News notes, out-of-control protests related to free speech and President Donald Trump have taken a heavy toll on the area, “leading to 34 arrests, 39 injuries and property damage totaling at least $100,000.”
The string of explosive protests began February 1 as a reaction to a planned speech by controversial former Breitbart News writer Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos was forced to cancel his speech after rioters grew violent, setting fire to the Berkeley campus and hurling rocks and fireworks at police officers:
Incredibly, only one individual was reportedly arrested that night, despite the fact that demonstrators were filmed breaking into and vandalizing local stores and banks.
For many stunned Americans, it was an eye-opening introduction to the “Antifa” — whose tactics, The Hill notes, have essentially changed the way UC Berkeley handles matters of free speech:
As justification for canceling the Coulter event, the University cited security concerns, pointing to the anticipated dangers posed by an organized group of black-clad, mask-wearing agitators and demonstrators self-styled as the “antifa” (short for “anti-fascist”), whose goal has been to use violence to silence any speech they find objectionable.
Still, that was only the first incident. A few weeks later, on March 4, violence again broke out at Berkeley when protesters clashed with members of a pro-Trump rally:
What was meant to be a peaceful rally turned into anything but. Individuals in helmets and gas masks began pepper-spraying and fighting one another, leading to 10 arrests and leaving at least three in need of medical attention.
In this instance, agitators also used fireworks and smoke bombs, while police say they confiscated items like metal pipes, bats, and even a “dagger.”
The most recent Berkeley clash over President Trump, on April 15, again resulted in terrifying scenes of violence involving black-clad, masked protesters:
This time, 23 individuals were arrested, and 11 were injured, including one man who was stabbed:
The continued incidents of violence have left some accusing the Berkeley police force of not doing enough to control the situation.
Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood, however, has defended his department's actions, noting that at least eight of his officers were injured when an “illegal explosive” was thrown at them during April's protest:
"A fight within a volatile crowd is not a simple matter in which to intervene.
Intervening on intermixed groups of armed participants fighting or eager to fight presents challenges. Intervention requires a major commitment of resources, a significant use of force, and carries with it the strong likelihood of harming those who are not committing a crime."
At this point, however, it seems that the outcome is inevitable.
According to local law enforcement sources, there is a “99 percent” chance that the Berkeley campus will turn violent — regardless of whether or not Coulter actually shows up for her planned speech.