An appearance by controversial Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos at his former school in Kent has been cancelled amid claims that a government counter-extremism unit intervened to stop the event going ahead.
However, government sources have now said the final decision to cancel his appearance was made by the school.
Yiannopoulos, a darling of the so-called alt-right who was banned from Twitter after leading a racism row, had been invited to speak to pupils at in Canterbury this Wednesday.
The school, the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury, claimed earlier today that pressure to pull the talk had come from the Department for Education's (DFE's) "counter-extremism unit" and organised groups outside who had "no direct connection" to it.
However, sources at the DFE have told BuzzFeed News that while the department had been in contact with the school, it had made clear during its conversation with staff that it was not able to instruct schools on who they could and could not host.
They said that the school had made security arrangements, and the discussion had ended with the school telling the DFE the event would still be going ahead.
They added that contact between the department and the school was made due to "public concern" but was not linked to the government's Prevent Strategy, which has of late seen more more referrals for far right extremism than Islamic extremism in some parts of UK.
More than 220 students had signed up to hear the 32-year-old Trump supporter – who was expelled from Langton – give a talk on politics, the "alt-right", and the recent US election.
In a statement, Simon Langton Grammar School said:
This decision was taken following contact from the DFE Counter Extremism Unit, the threat of demonstrations at the school by organised groups and members of the public, and our overall concerns for the security of the school site and the safety of our community …
Whilst disappointed that both the pastoral care and intellectual preparation we offer to our students has been called into question, we at The Langton remain committed to the principle of free speech and open debate and will resist, where possible, all forms of censorship.
On Facebook last week, Yiannopoulos announced to his followers he had been invited to speak at his former school, "which once upon a time expelled me for absolutely outrageous behaviour".
"The moral of the story is: success trumps everything!" he wrote.
The school said staff and students of the school were "overwhelmingly in favour" of the event with Yiannopoulos, whom the school described as a "well-known journalist and alumnus".
In response to the cancellation, Yiannopoulos said in a statement: "Who even knew the DoE had a 'counter-extremism' unit? And that it wasn't set up to combat terrorism but rather to punish gays with the wrong opinions?
"Perhaps if I'd called my talk "MUSLIMS ARE AWESOME!" the NUT and Department of Education would have been cool with me speaking," he said.
Over the last week, an online furore on local social media groups has been brewing over whether the far-right figure should have been invited by the school. In an unofficial open letter objecting to the invitation, two former pupils who are now university academics, Kit Caless and Gary Budden, wrote: "Milo Yiannopoulos is not the 'alt-right'; he is a twisted new incarnation of the far-right."
Kat Peddie, a local who signed the open letter, told BuzzFeed News residents in the area and parents have mostly been debating whether the cancelling of a particular talk constitutes a violation of free speech.
She added: "My first thought was that he is not someone who respects debate or other people and that that was a dangerous thing to bring into a school. And that him giving a speech gave him a dangerous platform of authority … He was also clearly using the school to legitimate his extremism too. If he did not speak and encourage hate speech my views would be different."
News of the cancellation was broken on the Langton Politics Association Facebook page, with Charlie Mower, a member of the group, posting: "I am so sorry to tell you this but Dr Baxter has had to cancel the event.
"The Langton is intending to have Milo return at some point for a proper debate the format of which will be acceptable to all parties concerned."
Another member of the group, Drishti Rai, said the media had not heard from students who were planning to attend the talk, adding: "One hour's worth of exposure to him was not going to brainwash and indoctrinate us into fascism, but external pressure suggested that we were incapable of challenging him."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “When concerns are raised by members of the public following media coverage in advance of an event, the department would contact the school as a matter of routine to check they had considered any potential issues. The decision to cancel the event was a matter for the school.”
Aisha Gani is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Aisha Gani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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