Berkeley Protests Shut Down Peter Thiel Speech

On Wednesday evening, in the very hall where the University of California at Berkeley had just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, demonstrators shut down a speech by billionaire tech guru–and noted libertarian–Peter Thiel.

The activists who broke into Wheeler Hall were protesting the non-indictment of police officers in the deaths of black suspects Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY for the fifth straight evening.

Shouting “No police state–no NSA,” the demonstrators broke into Wheeler Hall as Thiel was fielding questions from the student audience, according to Adrienne Shih of the Daily Californian. Evidently the demonstrators were unaware of Thiel’s opposition to intrusive government and his strong support for Ron Paul, who ran for president twice on a platform of upholding civil liberties against the security policies of the federal government.

On Monday evening, Breitbart News had reported on the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement from within the same hall. One veteran of that event, philosopher John Searle, lamented that Berkeley had not achieved complete free speech, because of hostility towards unpopular views, particularly conservative ones. “We did not have an atmosphere where anybody could come and say anything,” he recalled.

The Thiel event had been sponsored by the Berkeley Forum, which is “a non-partisan, student-run organization at the University of California, Berkeley,” according to its website, which fosters dialogue through “talks by leading experts from a wide variety of fields.” The Forum hosted Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a vocal critic of the NSA, earlier in the year. Following the disruption of the Thiel event, the Forum issued a statement, noting:

While we respect and sympathize with the protestor’s right to demonstrate, the right of free speech and discussion is a two-way street. The Berkeley Forum is founded on the principles of free discussion and intellectual exchange. Moments before the demonstrators stormed the auditorium, Peter Thiel was preparing to answer a question regarding his views on the value of political protest, after which the event was to open up to audience questions. Sadly, the opportunity to engage in productive discussion on the matter was lost.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that 100 or so demonstrators  included many Berkeley students. After breaking up the Thiel event, they proceeded down Sproul Plaza–the epicenter of the Free Speech Movement–and into the city.

Among other distinctions, Thiel is the co-author of a book about liberal intolerance on campus. He is also one of the co-founders of PayPal, the online commerce and money transfer site, and founded Palantir Technologies, a data analysis firm that does some work in the field of national security for the government.

Wheeler Hall was the site of the faculty senate vote on Dec. 8, 1964 at which professors supported students’ demand to be allowed to engage in political speech anywhere on campus–a key victory for the Free Speech Movement.

On social media, while there were some criticisms of the demonstrators, many supporters of the protests against police brutality were enthusiastic in their support of those who had broken up the Thiel event:

Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak


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