Damage at UC Berkeley after a student protest turned violent in Berkeley, California, US, February 1, 2017.
Damage at UC Berkeley after a student protest turned violent in Berkeley, California, US, February 1, 2017.

Hundreds of protesters at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday smashed windows, set fires and clashed with police as they forced a right-wing speaker to cancel his appearance at the liberal-leaning institution.

Two hours before far-right Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was to give a speech at the student union, protesters tossed metal barricades and rocks through the building's windows and set a light generator on fire near the entrance, footage from news outlets showed.

Police ordered protesters to disperse as the school put the campus on lockdown. Protesters also tossed bricks and fireworks at police in riot gear who fired rubber pellets back at the crowd.

"We shut down the event. It was great. Mission accomplished," said a protester.

The university said some 150 "masked agitators" were responsible for the violence during the otherwise largely peaceful protest of about 1,500 people.

UC Berkeley has been a bastion of free speech in the United States since the 1960s.

TRT World's Frances Read has more.

The Breitbart effect

Critics of Yiannopoulos argue that the free speech movement has been hijacked. The previous head of Breitbart was Steve Bannon. Now he is President Donald Trump's chief strategist.

Under Bannon's leadership, his Breitbart website presented a number of conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival in the 2016 election, as well as Republicans it deemed to be lacking in conservative bona fides. Critics have accused Bannon of anti-semitism and of being sympathetic to white nationalism.

Bannon has ascribed his interest in populism and "American nationalism" to a desire to curb what he views as the corrosive effects of globalisation. He has rejected what he calls the "ethno-nationalist" tendencies of some in the movement.

Yiannopoulous on Wednesday criticised "the Left", saying it is "absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down."

Twitter suspended Yiannopoulos's account last year after he was accused of participating in the online harassment of an African-American actress.

Trump's administration has described as "alternative facts" its counter-discourse to the traditional norms of political dialogue and media engagement.

Bookshops in the US have reported a spike in sales of George Orwell's dystopian "1984," in which words mean their opposites, after senior White House official Kellyanne Conway used the term "alternative facts" to defend the Trump administration's claims about the size of his inauguration crowd.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies