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BERKELEY (CBSMiami/AP) — Rioters threw smoke bombs, broke windows and sparked a massive bonfire in protests of a far-right commentator’s appearance at the University of California in Berkeley prompting officials to call off the event.

The decision came two hours before Wednesday’s talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, a polarizing editor of Breitbart News, after some 1,500 people had gathered outside the venue.

But officials said it was a smaller group of protesters dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts that showed up as night fell to break windows, throw smoke bombs and flares, and start the raging blaze outside the building.

“This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers,” said UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet.

A protester is carried into a building by police officers during a protest on the UC Berkeley campus on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

A protester is carried into a building by police officers during a protest on the UC Berkeley campus on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

Bennet said police determined at that point they couldn’t guarantee security, canceled the event and evacuated Yiannopoulos from the building.

There were no immediate reports of arrests or serious injuries, she said.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to comment, tweeting: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Prior to the burst of violence, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators carrying signs that read “Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech” had been protesting the appearance for hours.

As the evening wore on, crowds of protesters cleared away from outside the building. By 8 p.m. the crowd had thinned and at least 100 protesters that remained danced to a brass band playing music and marched off campus and into a main avenue.

Yiannopoulos, a 32-year-old right-wing provocateur, is a vocal supporter of Trump and a self-proclaimed internet troll whose comments have been criticized as racist, misogynist, anti-Muslim and white supremacist. He was banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones.

His visit to Berkeley was sponsored by the campus Republican club. The university has stressed it did not invite him and does not endorse his ideas but is committed to free speech and rejected calls to cancel the event.

“The event has been cancelled,” Yiannopoulos posted on his Facebook page. “I’ll let you know more when the facts become clear. One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”

The inside of a Starbucks is seen after being looted by protesters on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The inside of a Starbucks is seen after being looted by protesters on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The Berkeley College Republicans said its “constitutional right to free speech was silenced by criminals and thugs.”

“Their success is a defeat for civilized society and the free exchange of ideas on college campuses across America,” it said in a statement.

The university, which had requested assistance from police in nine UC campuses, sent a notice to all students earlier Wednesday that warned of crowds near the student union, where the 500-seat, sold-out event was scheduled.

Yiannopoulos’ talks have sparked protests, shouting matches and occasional violence at stops around the country. A man was shot and wounded at protests outside his Jan. 21 talk at the University of Washington.

Rowdy protests at UC Davis Jan. 13 prompted campus Republicans to cancel his appearance at the last minute. His final stop was supposed to be UCLA on Thursday but the invitation was rescinded, making Berkeley his grand finale.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (3)
  1. The tolerant liberals once again showing their fascist roots and their Socialist foundation of censorship of opposing views. They are a train wreck of destructive policies and childish finger pointing and are bent on the destruction of America.

    I know it’s off topic, but our country is losing it’s freedoms. We have Donald Sterling forced to sell his NBA team, free speech not allowed on PUBLIC campuses, etc. We have expensive health insurance forced on all of us. Even auto insurance is forced on us (thank god for $25/month Insurance Panda coverage). What’s next? Mandatory phone insurance? We have taxes on top of taxes and our freedoms are slowly disappearing. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would be rolling in their graves.

    Liberals are all bullies. They are non tolerant and don’t want any opposition.

  2. I’m totally in support of this kind of protest. I don’t care WHAT it takes to prevent the NAZI take-over of this Country

    1. Well, get ready to “feel” the consequences of your fascism It is people like you that create a Nazi state
      .

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