Lewis Griswold

Ex-Democrat goes to Berkeley to hear a speech but witnesses a riot

Susan Walsh of Visalia poses with conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley shortly before his speech was canceled.
Susan Walsh of Visalia poses with conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley shortly before his speech was canceled. Special to The Bee

Susan Walsh of Visalia traveled to Berkeley to see right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos give a speech – and found herself in the middle of a chaotic protest that gave a black eye to the home of the Free Speech Movement.

Yiannopoulos – the young, hip, photogenic technology editor at Breitbart news, a conservative website – has been on a tour of college campuses attacking political correctness.

Opponents say he’s guilty of racist, misogynist and anti-Muslim comments. He is sometimes called a right-wing provocateur.

He visited the University of California at Berkeley on Feb. 1 at the invitation of the Berkeley College Republicans.

As the captain of the Trump for President campaign in Tulare County, Walsh (an ex-Democrat) was invited to hear the speech – and met Yiannopoulos while walking in from the parking garage. She took a selfie with him.

“He was very sweet, a gentleman,” she said.

But Yiannopoulos’ speech was canceled at the last minute when a student protest got out of control. Protesters broke windows and started a fire, and the mob scene made headlines and was all over TV. Berkeley police later blamed agitators for what happened.

He (Yiannopoulos) was very sweet, a gentleman.

Susan Walsh, Visalia

Walsh gave this account of what she witnessed.

She and others were allowed into the student union building about 5 p.m. as protesters were outside.

Fireworks started going off and soon projectiles were being hurled at the building, Walsh said. Yiannopoulos left. Police moved Walsh and about 25 others to the second floor for safety.

Meanwhile outside, “you could hear them taking the barricades and hurling them at the bottom floor to break the windows,” she said. “It was so loud. We could see the flames out the window of the second floor.”

She looked out the window. “I saw baseball bats, poles, sticks and fire extinguishers that people were shooting off in the crowd,” she said.

A fire alarm went off. “Little did I know they set the generator on fire,” she said. “Everybody was like, scared.”

I saw baseball bats, poles, sticks and fire extinguishers that people were shooting off in the crowd.

Susan Walsh, Visalia

The situation was more than chaotic, she said: “It was a riot.” A friend posted a video on YouTube of what they saw from the second floor.

After about 2 1/2 hours, an officer told them, “if you guys want to go out of the building, you need to go now.” Walsh asked if officers would escort them. “They said, ‘It’ll make things worse for you,’ ” she said.

Walsh and her female friend made it to their car in a parking garage, where, in a surreal moment, a lurking stranger had mistaken their car as belonging to Yiannapoulos’ entourage and was hoping to see him.

They tried to drive out of the garage but the exit was blocked by barricades and a dumpster, she said. Two maintenance workers said they could not help them but gave them the phone number to the campus police department. She called but was told officers were “a little busy” though they’d try to send someone.

As it happened, Walsh had grabbed some anti-Yiannopoulos printed material (“propaganda literature,” she said) so she put it on the dashboard to fool the protesters – and held onto her pepper spray.

She drove behind another car heading to the exit, where several protesters moved the obstruction aside to let them pass, which took a while.

“They said ‘We’ll help you.’ They let us out,” she said. “That literature saved my life, I’m sure of it. It was insane.”

Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook that he’ll return to Berkeley.

Lewis Griswold covers the news of the South Valley for The Bee: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

  Comments