Despite concerns over potentially violent protests, everything went smoothly for conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos' return to Cal Poly for a "fake news" forum, a university spokesman said Friday.
"No arrests, no injuries, no reported fights, and no damage to campus," spokesman Matt Lazier said in an email to The Tribune. "University Police worked with the campus community to develop a detailed plan aimed at maintaining safety and security."
In fact, the event was a far cry from last year when as many as 150 protesters rallied against the right-wing provocateur's appearance on campus near the height of his popularity.
Attendees were greeted by extensive security fencing, metal detectors and a heavy police presence, including spotters on the nearby rooftops, but for the most part, protesters stayed away.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Tribune
The Cal Poly College Republicans club, which co-sponsored the event with Turning Point USA, did not respond to requests for comment on the event Friday.
Lot of police, little protest
Cal Poly University Police Chief George Hughes previously said the police presence would be similar to that visit, when more than 100 officers, including SWAT and riot police, were dispatched to maintain order.
While the police were in place early, at 6 p.m, an hour before the event, few protesters had shown up.
At first, the only demonstration outside was a drum circle featuring NAACP San Luis Obispo County president Stephen Vines and James Balseiro Jr.
Vines said they were there to make the NAACP's presence felt.
"We thought we'd come out and show our support for the young people here." Balseiro said, adding that they were there to "spread the message of peace and love."
As the 7 p.m. start time for the panel neared, a handful of protesters arrived, including students Bria Brickman and Sarah Brotzel.
The pair held a sign saying "Hate speech ≠ free speech."
"Right now, it's a little skewed," Brotzel said, noting there's a difference between hate speech and free speech.
She said it would be nice if Cal Poly would host a speaker that is "someone to unite us instead of divide us."
Both Brotzel and Brickman said people like Yiannopoulos and those who invite him to speak don't embody "the Mustang Way."
A group of seven masked protesters armed with signs saying "White Supremacy" and "Racism Brought to You By Cal Poly Republicans" arrived at around 7 p.m. They carried sticks emblazoned with red and black flags and heckled both the police and any stragglers going into the event.
Elsewhere on campus, several cultural organizations hosted a "kickback" gathering as an alternative to the panel. Roughly 100 students attended the outdoor picnic-style event, according to campus newspaper Mustang News.
The university also hosted an outdoor concert and tri-tip barbecue in Poly Canyon Visit for students during the panel. Lazier said about 250 people attended that.
Inside the panel
Inside Mott Athletic Center, the event began with an impromptu singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" launched by the audience, some of whom were wearing signature red "Make America Great Again" baseball caps popularized by President Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign.
This was followed by several shouts of "America, f--- yeah!"
Cal Poly College Republicans Club President Katherine Rueckert then opened the panel discussion, saying, "This is going to be an unforgettable discussion on fake news.”
Beside Yiannopoulos, the panel featured YouTube personalities Austen Fletcher, known as "Fleccas," and Carl Benjamin, aka "Sargon of Akkad."
From identity politics and Kanye West to culture wars between the political right and left, the speakers touched on a number of topics throughout the night.
Yiannopoulos spoke first, describing fake news as "a form of political warfare."
"Fake news is propaganda, it is ideological warfare ... dressed up as journalism," he said.
Yiannopoulos' signature flippant style was on display throughout the night, including remarks like "your professors hate you because you are rich and white," several jokes about Nazis and a comment on agribusiness not being a real thing (the latter was one of his only remarks to elicit a less-than-positive reaction from the crowd.)
The other panelists were not without their own hot takes on current events.
At one point Benjamin went on a rant about David Hogg, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people in February.
Since the shooting, Hogg and his classmates have become known as passionate anti-gun activists. Hogg was also recently accepted to Cal Poly.
"I f---ing hate David Hogg, because he gets on TV and talks to people like they're the problem," Benjamin said to much applause. "F--- off, kid."
An additional panelist, alt-right political activist and writer Laura Loomer — who joined the discussion partway through at Yiannopoulos' request — also spoke at length about Hogg, at one point repeating a debunked, month-old allegation that the 18-year-old was actually not on campus at the time of the shooting, and instead rode his bike to the school during the event.
That claim, first published by conservative website RedState.com, was immediately proved false, with the author of the piece issuing an apology ("It was a mistake. It was wrong. And I'm sorry.") on March 28.
The panelists wrapped up their forum just after 9 p.m.
After a student asked what Yiannopoulos what his advice was for young conservatives on campus, the speaker told the crowd that they must go on the offensive and push for their beliefs.
"You have to fight — you have to be willing to lose something," he said. "A movement without grassroots, reflexive support isn't enough."
Yiannopoulos ended the discussion by presenting a giant check to Jewish audience members who joined him onstage.
During protests following racist fraternity behavior, students presented Cal Poly administrators with a list of demands, which included additional funds for cultural organizations, "with the exception of organizations that are aligned with Zionist ideology."
Earlier during the forum, Yiannopoulos expressed his desire to donate to groups excluded from the list, although he said none would accept the money.
So Thursday night, Yiannopoulos called for any Jewish members of the audience to come down and accept his $500 check, which was made out to "The Jews" and signed "Milo," with a Star of David over the "i."
"We're going to split the money between these guys because the Jewish organizations are such f---ing losers," he said.
As people filed down from their seats and some attempted to leave the gym, Yiannopoulos quipped:
"If everyone could stay in their seats — only Jews," he said. "I only want the Jews in this special area, OK? I want them concentrated here."
That was met with laughter and applause.