Conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos is scheduled to visit San Luis Obispo’s California Polytechnic State University this week, invited as a panelist on ‘fake news’ hosted by the Cal Poly Republicans and Turning Point USA.
In addition to Yiannopoulos, the panel will feature YouTube personalities Austen Fletcher, also known as Fleccas, and Carl Benjamin, more commonly known under his pseudonym ‘Sargon of Akkad.’
Yiannopoulos’ appearances on campuses across the country have often fostered an environment of discord, and on occasion ended in violence. Last year, Cal Poly spent over $55,000 on security for a Yiannopoulos event. This year the university could spend more.
"It’s unknown if an outside group is going to travel here and their purpose is to disrupt," Cal Poly's University Police Department Chief George Hughes said at an Associated Students, Inc. board meeting last week. Cal Poly student media outlet Mustang News shared audio of the meeting with KCBX News.
“There are all these unknowns I have to be prepared for, I have to be prepared for the potential of an active shooter,” Hughes said.
Hughes prepared for these types of situations last year when Yiannopoulos came to Cal Poly. Hughes said there were 100 police officers, a SWAT team, and fences installed. The heavy police presence didn’t just surprise people on campus, Hughes said, it alarmed them.
“Alarmed is a great word to use. [When] people show up, if they see several police officers standing in one area - I'm a police officer, when I see a bunch of cops standing somewhere - I get it, ‘What is going on? Is everything ok? Am I safe?”
Because the campus police did not share much information beforehand, police activity led to rumors, he said.
“There was a rumor there were snipers on the roof,” Hughes said. “There were people on the roofs. They were not snipers.”
Hughes added that many still don’t believe him, but the officers on the roofs were spotters who were watching the ground in case something were to happen, such as a physical altercation.
“I wish I was much more transparent before Milo showed up on campus,” Hughes said of the 2017 Yaiannopoulos appearance. “And I wish I had prepared this campus for what to expect when they walked on campus that day.”
Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said school officials won’t be talking right now about the security efforts, out of public safety concerns.
But in speaking to students last week, Chief Hughes was very clear there will be a heavy police presence on campus Thursday, and likely more so than last year, which he knows might scare some people.
“I get it,” Hughes said. "That’s why I’m trying to get as much information out as possible. If you can come up with some other way to say, 'Chief - if you want to reach people, do it this way,’ please send me an email. Because I want to inform people as much as possible about what to expect."
Hughes said he will be working with all 23 California State University campuses to bring in additional security. And with travel, overtime and housing for all the officers, the costs adds up.
But when it comes to campus safety, Hughes said he is not putting a price cap on it. While campus organizations - like the Cal Poly Republicans - are normally responsible for paying for their own security, when they have a large event that Hughes deems to be carry a security risk, his department will pay for additional security measures.
“If I think it’s going to cost us $100,000 to create a safe environment, then I think [$100,000] is the right amount," Hughes said. "I don’t think you can put a price on to trying make sure no one gets hurt".
Yiannopoulos’ return to Cal Poly comes at a time of elevated tensions on campus, following a string of racially-charged incidents at the university. Student protests are planned.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department said it will supply Cal Poly with six additional police officers, and will staff extra patrols.