Chaos ensued Tuesday evening as a murky blend of protesters, supporters and armed police officers crowded the perimeter of the Titan Student Union at Cal State Fullerton, awaiting the arrival of Milo Yiannopoulos.
The event was preceded by intense protesting which led to the arrests of at least eight people and one instance of a woman being pepper sprayed by another protester as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Two of the arrests were said to be due to violence between left and right wingers. Yiannopoulos, a controversial conservative media figure, was slated to speak at the university at 6 p.m. as a part of his Troll Academy campus tour.
In an attempt to deflect the views of those in support of Milo Yiannopoulos, a Unity Block Party was hosted by Students for Quality Education Fullerton earlier in the day in the quad. Though significantly smaller than the mob of protesters outside of the student union, Fullerton faculty and staff attempted to make the best of what Cal Poly Pomona junior Marvin Morales referred to as bad situation.
“Even though there is something bad going on at the other side of campus, this event is to show that something more positive is happening here,” Morales said. “It’s a better way to spend your time then what’s happening [at the protest].”
In addition to tacos and soft drinks, the block party also served a push for involvement in progressive organizations on campus and voter registration.
Sharon Quirk-Silva, 65th State Assemblymember, spoke at the block party on the uniting power of strife, tragedy and the federal government’s mistreatment toward marginalized communities.
“For many of us we are watching almost hourly as we see the foundation of our country and our constitution not being honored.” Quirk-Silva said. “We know that education is the great equalizer and we know that now more than ever, your voices count.”
Other groups of students patrolled the campus with picket signs expressing their opinions of the controversial speaker.
Henry Tran, a Fullerton senior majoring in engineering, claimed that Yiannopoulos’ message is just as important as anyone else’s, regardless of his beliefs.
“We as Titan’s value diversity, but there’s one form of diversity we seem to forget, intellectual and political diversity,” Tran said.
Tran went on to defend his position on the grounds that he holds opinions that could be seen as dangerous or offensive in other contexts.
“Here in America, I need to defend others’ right to speak in order to defend my right to speak,” Tran said.
Only a short walk away from the Unity Block Party, tensions began to escalate outside of the Titan Student Union.
A protester, who would only identify himself as Frank, described the masses outside of the building as a symptom of the many middle of the road voices being catered to on college campuses.
“There’s far too many centrists that want to give a platform to neo-nazis and neo-fascists,” Frank said. “It’s far too easy for them to say that this is their first amendment right, but when it starts bordering on ethnic cleansing and genocide — that’s where you draw the line. They somehow think that hate speech is free speech.”
As he trailed off about the inherent pitfalls of American democracy, he was interrupted as a woman about 20 feet away screamed from being pepper sprayed. Cell phones were quickly drawn and pointed at the woman writhing on the ground. Frank and a few others rushed in to swipe at the cell phone cameras with sticks and flags. Soon after, Frank and several others put on ski masks and helmets before patrolling the protest site with handwritten flags. A few protesters in the same outfits were later taken away by the police.
The rest of the evening was riddled with similar scenarios, as a crowd attracting supporters of Yiannopoulos gathered around a man wearing a “make America great again” cap, with a stuffed animal in his arms. As the man filmed the crowd, he engaged in heated debate with leftist participants.
As disorganized protesting started to wind down with the setting sun, one of the last holdouts was a man masked in an American flag bandana proclaiming to wear the mask of freedom.
“No to racism, no to division, no to American against American.” The masked man said.