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Ann Coulter a no-show at raucous but peaceful Berkeley rally

Associated Press logo Associated Press 4/28/2017 By JOCELYN GECKER, Associated Press
Demonstrators sharing opposing views argue during a rally Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press Demonstrators sharing opposing views argue during a rally Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Ann Coulter did not turn up in Berkeley where hundreds held a raucous but largely peaceful demonstration in her absence and lamented what they called the latest blow to free speech in the home of America's free speech movement.

A demonstrator listens to speakers Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press A demonstrator listens to speakers Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The conservative pundit's canceled appearance at the University of California, Berkeley drew hundreds of her supporters to a downtown park Thursday, many of them dressed in flak jackets, ballistic helmets adorned with pro-Donald Trump stickers and other protective gear in anticipation of violence.

Demonstrators gather around a speaker Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press Demonstrators gather around a speaker Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

But there were no major confrontations between Coulter's supporters and opponents, largely because of a significant police presence and the fact that members of an extremist left-wing group did not show up to provoke clashes.

A crowd gathers around speakers during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press A crowd gathers around speakers during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Coulter had publicly floated the idea of making a controversial visit to Berkeley despite the cancellation, but did not show.

Demonstrators shout slogans directed at city hall during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press Demonstrators shout slogans directed at city hall during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Her supporters and students on the UC Berkeley campus, many of whom expressed distaste for Coulter's political views, voiced frustration that she didn't get to speak and that the university's reputation as a bastion of tolerance was suffering. Coulter planned to give a speech on illegal immigration.

A demonstrator wears a helmet and mask during a rally Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press A demonstrator wears a helmet and mask during a rally Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"I don't like Ann Coulter's views but I don't think in this case the right move was to shut her down," said 24-year-old grad student Yevgeniy Melguy, who held a sign earlier in the day saying "Immigrants Are Welcome Here."

Lauren Southern wears a protective helmet as she speaks during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press Lauren Southern wears a protective helmet as she speaks during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Anthropology major Christina Katkic, 21, worried that the university was getting increasingly stuck in the middle of the country's political divide.

A demonstrator guards the speakers area during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press A demonstrator guards the speakers area during a rally for free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"Berkeley has become a platform and a lot of people want to come here and use it," said Katkic, who had joined other students on campus blowing bubbles near a message scrawled on the ground in chalk that read: "If only bubbles actually made our campus safe."

Daryl Tempesta, left, with a sign over his mouth, walks to the microphone during a demonstration Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press Daryl Tempesta, left, with a sign over his mouth, walks to the microphone during a demonstration Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"I think Ann Coulter has a right to speak here. Berkeley students are interested in political discourse," she said.

Joey Gibson speaks during a rally in support of free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press Joey Gibson speaks during a rally in support of free speech Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

University police erected barricades and refused to let any protesters enter the campus. Six people were arrested, including one for obstructing an officer and wearing a mask to evade police, and another for possessing a knife.

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2011 file photo, Ann Coulter waves to the audience after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. The University of California, Berkeley says it's preparing for possible violence on campus whether Coulter comes to speak or not. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2011 file photo, Ann Coulter waves to the audience after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. The University of California, Berkeley says it's preparing for possible violence on campus whether Coulter comes to speak or not. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Hundreds of Coulter's supporters gathered about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the university's main Sproul Plaza at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in downtown Berkeley.

Demonstrators gather Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) © The Associated Press Demonstrators gather Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"It's a shame that someone can't speak in the home of the free speech movement," said Wilson Grafstrom, an 18-year-old high school student from Menlo Park, California.

He wore a helmet with a "Make America Great Again" sticker across the back, goggles, a gas mask and knee pads. He blamed people opposed to Coulter and President Donald Trump for forcing him to gear up for problems.

Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice Media and founder of the pro-Trump "Proud Boys," was one of several speakers at the gathering. He delivered the speech Coulter had planned to give on illegal immigration, on her behalf, to the crowd's raucous applause.

"They tried to ban her and we can't allow that. It's unacceptable," McInnes said as he left the gathering surrounded by private security. "Free speech is about uncomfortable speech. Yes, it's often about hate speech and it's about speech that's banned."

On its Facebook page, McInnes' group calls itself a fraternal organization aimed at "reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism."

While the afternoon rally ended without serious conflict, police at one point formed a human wall in the street separating anti-Trump protesters from the park where pro-Trump groups were gathered.

Anti-Coulter and anti-Trump protesters at the park held a banner that read: "It's not about 'free speech,' it's about bigots trying to normalize hate."

Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists.

In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.

Officials at UC Berkeley said they feared renewed violence on campus if Coulter followed through with plans to speak, citing "very specific intelligence" of threats that could endanger Coulter and students, which Coulter said was motivated by a university bias against conservative speakers.

Police had faced criticism after the earlier clashes for failing to stop the violence.

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof credited the peacefulness of Thursday's rallies partly to an increased police presence. He declined to specify how many police were deployed but said there were a "wide range" of local and regional agencies present.

"I think it's clear that having a strong visible police presence was important both in terms of deterrence and law enforcement," he said, noting that even in Coulter's absence hundreds descended on Berkeley. "This points to the challenges we face in the climate we're living in."

___

Associated Press writers Janie Har and Kristin J. Bender contributed to this report from San Francisco.

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