Robert Reich: Who Sent the Thugs to Berkeley?

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This article first appeared on RobertReich.org.

The events at Berkeley Wednesday night have been a boon to Milo Yiannopoulos, of Breitbart News, and to Steve Bannon, formerly head of Breitbart News and now Trump’s consigliere.

As you may know, on Wednesday night, February 1, Berkeley gave Yiannopoulos a major forum to spout his racist and misogynistic vitriol. But police had to cancel the talk because about 150 masked agitators threw Molotov cocktails, smashed windows where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak and threw rocks and fireworks at the police – delivering made-for-TV images of a riot.

According to a promotional Breitbart story that ran before the event, Yiannopoulos was going to “ call for the withdrawal of federal grants and the prosecution of university officials who endanger their students with their policies.”

Which is exactly what Trump did via tweet early the next morning:: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Related : Michael Dorf: Trump's Toxic Mix of Incompetence and Malevolence

Thursday night, Yiannopoulos had a friendly interview on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” – a show that, according to the Washington Post, has ridden anger at left-wing activism into best-in-class prime time ratings.

Yiannopoulos wasn’t asked about the content of the speech that was shut down. The conversation focused instead on how Berkeley proved the point that the Left was ceding its right to federal grants by cracking down on free speech.

02_04_Breitbart_Berkeley_01 Protesters on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California. Robert Reich asks, were Milo Yiannopoulos and Brietbart News in cahoots with the agitators, in order to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown on universities and their federal funding? Elijah Nouvelage/Getty

Which raises the possibility that Yiannopoulos and Brietbart were in cahoots with the agitators, in order to lay the groundwork for a Trump crackdown on universities and their federal funding.

Thursday night on CNN, I said “I wouldn’t bet against” that possibility. Almost immediately an indignant article appeared in Breitbart News, misleadingly headlined “Robert Reich Lies, Claims Breitbart News Organized Berkeley Riots.”

Hmmm. Connect these dots:

(1) Yinnopoulos writes for Breitbart News, which Steve Bannon – Trump’s strategy director – ran before joining Trump.

(2) Before Yiannopoulos speaks at Berkeley, Breitbart publishes an article saying that Yiannopoulos will call for the withdrawal of federal grants and the prosecution of university officials who endanger their students with their policies.

(3) Berkeley opens its doors to Yiannopoulos, but campus police have to cancel the event because of masked agitators.

(4) Hours later, Trump issues a misleading tweet, accusing the university of not allowing free speech and promoting violence against innocent people with different views and threatening to withhold federal funds.

(5) The next night, Yiannopoulos on Fox News says the incident proves that universities like Berkeley don’t deserve federal grants by cracking down on free speech.

(6) That same night, on CNN, I raise the possibility that Yiannopoulos and Breitbart could have been collaborating with the agitators – saying “I wouldn’t bet against it.” This generates a belligerent column in Breitbart with a misleading headline calling me a liar for claiming that Breitbart News organized the riots.

I don’t want to add to the conspiratorial musings of so many about this very conspiratorial administration, but it strikes me there may be something worrying going on here.

I wouldn’t bet against it.

Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All.

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