Bill Ayers Speech Draws Heightened Security

In this image released by ABC, William Ayers appears during an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" program, Friday, Nov. 14, 2008, in New York, where Ayers said he knows President-elect Barack Obama no better than thousands of other people in Chicago. AP Photo/ABC

Security was heightened Wednesday at the University of Wyoming as the school prepared for a speech from William Ayers, the 1960s radical whose visit was blocked before a federal judge ruled the university must allow him to speak.

University spokeswoman Jessica Lowell said Ayers' visit would be handled like other prominent visitors.

"It's the usual practice to do a security sweep of the facility and generally we ask people not to bring large knapsacks or bags or purses," she said. "If they're going to bring signs, we ask them to be hand-held, so we don't want anything on sticks or sharp metal objects."

Ayers' visit provoked a tide of angry reaction from some critics in the state, and the university cited safety concerns in refusing to rent out space for the event. Ayers and a student sued the university for blocking his visit, and U.S. District Judge William Downes ruled Tuesday that the threats of violence the university reported receiving were too vague to warrant denying Ayers' right to speak on campus.

Students planned a protest of Ayers visit Wednesday, but the magnitude of any demonstration wasn't certain.

Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-war group from the Vietnam Era that claimed to be responsible for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol. His past became a political issue during the 2008 presidential campaign because President Barack Obama had served with Ayers on the board of a Chicago charity. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists."

Obama has condemned Ayers' radical activities, and there's no evidence they were ever close friends or that Ayers advised Obama on policy.

Ayers is now a professor in the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Education.

He initially was invited to the Wyoming campus by the UW Social Justice Research Center, but the privately endowed organization canceled the invitation because of hundreds of critical phone calls and e-mails.

Student Meg Lanker then invited Ayers to speak on campus, but the university refused to rent out space for the event, citing safety concerns because of threats the school received.

Lanker and Ayers sued the university, saying it violated their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.

Other universities have canceled Ayers speeches recently, including the University of Nebraska and Boston College. He's also been confronted by protesters at other appearances.

But Ayers testified Monday the Wyoming case is the first time he has filed a lawsuit against a college for denying him the right to speak.
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