Ann Coulter won't attend 'Free Speech Week' at Berkeley

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter said Friday that she would not attend a planned "Free Speech Week" at the University of California at Berkeley.

The four-day event, which was due to begin Sunday, was organized by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, whose previous attempt to speak on campus in February was shut down after masked anarchists rioted on campus.

In an email to the Associated Press, Coulter said she considered going but opted not to after she heard "the administration was dead set on blocking this event."

"I also don't think Berkeley deserves to hear a brilliant and entertaining Ann Coulter speech," Coulter added in her email.

Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist for President Donald Trump, was on Yiannopoulos' lineup of speakers, but has not said publicly if he plans to attend. The Atlantic reported Friday that Bannon would not travel to Berkeley and was focusing his energies on campaigning for Roy Moore in next week's Republican runoff for the Senate in Alabama. 

A number of other listed speakers have posted comments on social media saying they don't plan to show up either. Among them is James Damore, a former Google employee who was fired for writing a memo viewed as sexist. He tweeted that he never knew he was on the list.

"Contrary to press reports, Free Speech Week is not cancelled," Yiannopoulos wrote Friday on Facebook, urging his followers to stay tuned for details at a Saturday news conference.

Amid the uncertainty, the university is preparing strong security expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Students have been warned to expect several days of disruptions caused by heavy police lines and protest barriers, the possible closure of buildings and roads, and events scheduled to take place outdoors on the central hub of campus known as Sproul Plaza.

Four political demonstrations, starting with the Yiannopoulos event last February, have turned violent and prompted authorities to come up with new strategies as they struggle to balance free speech rights with preventing violence.

University of California President Janet Napolitano, who oversees the 10 campuses in the UC system, said her office is taking the unprecedented step of splitting security costs with UC Berkeley despite the current financial struggles of the system.

UC Berkeley shelled out $600,000 for security last week when conservative Ben Shapiro spoke at an event organized by campus Republicans. Napolitano said UC will split that expense as well.

"In an ideal world we wouldn't have to put that much money into security," said Napolitano, who previously served as U.S. Homeland Security secretary under President Obama.

Ahead of the event next week, student bulletin boards on Sproul Plaza were papered with fliers calling on counter protesters to "Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos," saying his brand of inflammatory speech against Muslims, immigrants, women and transgender people was hateful and should not be allowed. The fliers advised supporters to bring bandannas to cover their faces in case police fire tear gas.

Faculty members are divided over the event, with many saying the university must defend free speech and respond to hate speech. Others say the university should not provide a platform for provocative speakers whose presence could trigger violence.

More than 200 professors and graduate student instructors have signed a letter calling for an all-campus boycott of classes if the event goes ahead.

"The history of these events has been chilling," the letter states, citing deadly violence last month in the college town of Charlottesville, Va., when protesters clashed with white supremacists.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.