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UNM speech draws hecklers, protesters


Controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos takes the stage at the University of New Mexico Friday evening. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos takes the stage at the University of New Mexico Friday evening. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Officers in riot gear broke up a large protest against controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of New Mexico campus Friday evening.

Around 250 protesters gathered outside the Student Union Building, where Yiannopoulos was speaking, chanting “(expletive) white supremacy,” among other things. At one point, protesters banged against the doors of the SUB.

Several people left or were escorted out of the event by police. At several points, hecklers shouted while Yiannopoulos spoke.

But hundreds of others cheered as Yiannopoulos talked about topics including President Donald Trump, the wall on the Mexican border that the president has said he will build or a ban on Muslim immigrants.

“Illegal people aren’t a race; they’re people who don’t belong in your country,” Yiannopoulos said at one point during the speech.

Yiannopoulos, who is gay, visited the campus Friday as part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour.” He has written articles for the far-right Breitbart News with headlines such as “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews” and was permanently banned from Twitter in connection with a harassment campaign that included racist insults directed at actress Leslie Jones.

In between lewd sexual jokes, the crowd responded positively to Yiannopoulos’ talking points that included slamming the political left for labeling people as racists. He at one point encouraged the audience to “purge your local illegals” by reporting undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He also encouraged Americans to reject Islam, and praised acting president Chaouki Abdallah for supporting free speech.

At different points, members of the audience heckled Yiannopoulos. A woman wearing a hijab shouted at him when he argued that women in Islam are treated unfairly. She was escorted out by police and the crowd cheered.

The police escorted out about a half-dozen people from the SUB ballroom.

A self-described Yiannopoulos fan, Tanner Pelfrey, 19, said he doesn’t agree with all of Milo’s beliefs, but that he likes “watching people get riled up.” It was common for people to say they didn’t agree with all of Yiannopoulos’ beliefs but that he was entertaining.

But not everyone in the audience came to support Yiannopoulos.

Serene Akkad, 21, of the Muslim student association, and Deemah Al-Omari, 18, both young women wearing hijabs, said they attended the event in a form of protest. They said they wanted to show Yiannopoulos he doesn’t faze them. Both left during the speech.

Outside the SUB, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputies in riot gear and on horses pushed the crowd back, saying over a loudspeaker “this is an unlawful assembly.” One of the deputies held a beanbag shotgun and pointed it at protesters near the police line. They threatened to use “chemical munitions” on protesters if they didn’t obey.

In return, the crowd chanted, “peaceful protest, not a riot.” Some members of the crowd asked deputies where they could go to continue to protest.

Felicia Romero, a spokeswoman for BCSO, said the assembly was unlawful because “some sort of pyrotechnics were used by the crowd against officers.” She later referred comment to New Mexico State Police, saying BCSO was only an assisting agency.

State Police Sgt. Chad Pierce said a few people were detained during the protest, but said he didn’t know if any of those people were facing criminal charges.

On the north side of the SUB, protesters banged chairs on top of the outdoor tables until deputies on horseback moved them down the steps.

The protests had dissipated by 8:15, and those who attended Yiannopoulos’ speech were allowed to leave the event that included a question-and-answer session after the talk.

There was some question if Yiannopoulos would be able to speak in connection to security fees, The administration ultimately suspended the policy connected to those fees, opening the door for the Friday event.

Video shot for Facebook Live