Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Protesters set fires and looted stores Wednesday night after peaceful demonstrations against a speech by Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley turned violent, police said.
Organizers of the speech by the conservative commentator canceled the event after school police issued a shelter-in-place order for the campus.
Protestors threw fireworks at police officers, smashed windows and set a fire outside the student union, leading university officials to cancel Yiannopoulos' speech.
A group of "masked agitators" interrupted what the university said had been a non-violent protest about two hours before the scheduled start of the speech. Yiannopoulos was escorted away from the venue.
"I have been evacuated from the UC Berkeley campus after violent left-wing protestors tore down barricades, lit fires, threw rocks and Roman candles at the windows and breached the ground floor of the building," Yiannopoulos said in a post on Facebook, adding that "one thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down."
The university said in a statement that a group of 150 masked agitators entered campus and started throwing items at police and harassing some of the 1,500 or so non-violent protestors already at the student union.
Yiannopoulos has described himself as a troll, or one who intentionally makes controversial comments for the sole purpose of inciting a strong reaction. He writes and speaks about politics and culture, and some critics have described him as a misogynist and racist.
The Berkeley speech was the second in a month to be canceled because of protests. He was supposed to appear at a University of California, Davis event with former investor Martin Shkreli on Jan. 14, but organizers canceled it after protests broke out at the venue.
Berkeley administrators expressed regret at having to cancel the speech -- the university was the birth place of the free speech movement -- but cited concerns about public safety as forcing their hand.
"Chancellor Nicholas Dirks made clear that while Yiannopoulos' views, tactics and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to those of the campus, UC Berkeley is bound by the Constitution, the law, the university's values and its principles of community that include the enabling of free expression across the full spectrum of opinion and perspective," administrators said.