Protesters disrupt talk by pro-police author, sparking free-speech debate at Claremont McKenna College

Administrators expressed disappointment and threatened discipline in the wake of a demonstration that disrupted a planned public event last week featuring conservative commentator and author Heather MacDonald at Claremont McKenna College.

The campus demonstration was among the latest nationwide to impede the appearance of a conservative speaker.

Perhaps the most notable occurred two months ago at UC Berkeley, where violent protesters prevented then-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking. Those protests were condemned by both UC administrators and President Trump.

At Claremont McKenna, about 250 protesters on Thursday blocked the entrance to the Athenaeum, where MacDonald was scheduled to appear. Many chanted “black lives matter” and “black lives — they matter here.”

Campus officials and security decided not to force entry into the venue on behalf of those who came to hear MacDonald speak.

“Based on the judgment of the Claremont Police Department, we jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff, and guests,” Claremont McKenna College President Hiram E. Chodosh said in a statement. “I take full responsibility for the decision to err on the side of these overriding safety considerations.”

Instead, MacDonald spoke before a handful of observers while the college live-streamed the event to a viewing audience that Chodosh estimated at 250 — about the same number as those protesting outside, according to authorities.

Her 30-minute talk also was made available for later viewing.

“Her presentation that is posted on our CMC homepage has already been viewed over 1,400 times,” Chodosh said. “In the end, the effort to silence her voice effectively amplified it to a much larger audience.”

Chodosh also threatened disciplinary action against any students from the Claremont colleges who blocked the entrances, calling it a violation of college policy.

The election of Donald Trump as president has sparked a wave of campus activism directed at the appearances of outspoken conservatives, especially those supporting Trump. In February, UC Berkeley authorities canceled a speech by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Two hours before Yiannopoulos was to speak, more than 1,500 people had gathered in protest. Some smashed windows and set a small fire.

Protests also resulted in the cancellation of a Yiannopoulos speech at UC Davis.

MacDonald’s books include last year’s ”The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe.” She has criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, whose supporters have denounced her.

A statement from a group that defined itself as “students of color at the Claremont Colleges” called MacDonald a “notorious white supremacist fascist.”

MacDonald recounted the experience in comments published by “The College Fix,” which describes itself as providing a “daily dose” of student-reported “right-minded news and commentary.”

“I was hustled from my guest suite by several police officers from Claremont PD into the lecture hall,” MacDonald said. “It was decided that I would give the speech for live streaming to a largely empty hall.”

“An escape plan through the kitchen into an unmarked police van was devised,” she continued. “I was surrounded by about four cops. Protesters were sitting on the stoop outside the door through which I exited, but we had taken them by surprise and we got through them.”

The day before, protesters also disrupted MacDonald’s appearance at UCLA. There, MacDonald gave her talk and took some questions, including one or more from protesters, with answers that sometimes led to angry reactions, according to accounts of the event.

howard.blume@latimes.com

@howardblume

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UPDATES:

April 9, 10:20 a.m.: This article has been updated with background on Berkeley protest.

This story was first published April 8 at 10:40 p.m.

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