Michigan State University – March 5, 2018

Violence overshadows speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI

An event featuring white nationalist Richard Spencer at Michigan State University (MSU) on March 5, 2018, devolved into violence when white supremacists and anti-fascist protesters clashed with police, delaying the speech and resulting in the arrest of more than two dozen people.

Key Players

Richard Spencer is president of the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white supremacist organization dedicated to “the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent,” according to the organization’s website. Spencer is known for opposing the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he was a featured speaker at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally that resulted in the death of a protester and injuries for many others. Spencer quickly gained infamy on social media in 2016 after his speech at a NPI conference in Washington, D.C. prompted guests to respond with a Nazi-like salute. “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory,” he exclaimed.

Cameron Padgett is a graduate student at Georgia State University who has served as Spencer’s booking agent for his college campus tour. In September 2017, he sued MSU for Spencer’s right to speak on campus.

Lou Anna K. Simon, who was president of MSU until her resignation in January 2018, was one of the defendants in the suit against the university. Initially opposed to Spencer lecturing on campus, she negotiated with NPI after the lawsuit was filed to find an acceptable time and place for the event.

Further Details

During the summer of 2017, NPI sought a space at MSU for Spencer to give a lecture as part of his college campus tour. In September, on the heels of the “Unite the Right” rally that turned deadly, the university decided it would give Spencer “no space” to speak on campus due to “significant concerns about public safety,” reported the Lansing State Journal. The decision, made “after consultation with law enforcement officials,” drew praise from student groups and legal action from NPI.

Padgett sued MSU and Simon on NPI’s behalf, arguing that the university impinged on Spencer’s First Amendment rights when it denied him a venue where he could speak. He sought a jury trial and damages from MSU, but the university eventually settled the lawsuit by allowing Spencer’s event to take place.

On January 18, 2018, Simon announced that the event was scheduled for March 5—the first day of spring break—in a location far away from the main campus. The venue would be a small auditorium at the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education, which is usually dedicated to livestock shows. The decision “was based on the university’s requirement that the event occur on a date and at a venue that minimizes the risk of violence or disruption to campus,” Simon stated.

The day of the event, the MSU College Republicans and Democrats organized a peaceful rally, along with democratic socialist and libertarian student groups. Despite the event’s secluded location, protesters and white nationalists alike descended on the auditorium hours before it was slated to begin at 4:30 p.m.

Outcome

Police delay event, arrest brawlers

Fights broke out between protesters—some of them masked anti-fascists—and Spencer’s supporters, delaying the start of the speech and leading police to block entry into the auditorium. According to WXYZ Detroit, there were hundreds of police on site, as well as armored vehicles and helicopters overhead. Police arrested 25 people, including Gregory Conte, NPI’s director of operations. Thirteen of the arrests were on felony charges.

Spencer speaks to small crowd

Spencer alleged that more than 150 tickets to the event had been distributed, but that many people were unable to enter due to the protest outside the auditorium. Ultimately, he spoke to a crowd of about three dozen. “No other group is treated with this kind of hostility,” Spencer said early on in his speech. “It is only us. Precisely because we’re white.”

Spencer cancels college tour

On March 11, Spencer announced in a YouTube video that he would be cutting his campus tour short because his movement “always needs to be course correcting.” He attributed his decision to the presence of anti-fascist protesters at his events.

External References

“‘Nazis go home!’ Fights break out at Michigan State as protesters, white supremacists converge for Richard Spencer speech,” The Washington Post

“Richard Spencer ally charged in connection with clashes at MSU,” Lansing State Journal

“Violence erupts at white nationalist Richard Spencer’s Michigan State University speech,” WXYZ

“Richard Spencer Will Speak at Michigan State — Way Out on a Farm,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Richard Spencer at Michigan State: Community braces for white nationalist leader,” Lansing State Journal

“MSU sued by Richard Spencer’s white supremacist group for refusing space on campus,” Lansing State Journal

“MSU says no space for Richard Spencer’s white supremacist group to speak,” Lansing State Journal

“Update On Request from National Policy Institute to Speak On Campus (Jan. 18, 2018),” Michigan State University

“‘Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President-Elect,” The Atlantic

“E-mails reveal how MSU grappled with Richard Spencer’s request to speak on campus,” Detroit Free Press

“Michigan State agrees to let Richard Spencer give a speech on campus,” The Washington Post

“Meet Cameron Padgett, Richard Spencer’s booking agent and legal advocate,” Southern Poverty Law Center

“Richard Spencer cancels speaking tour of college campuses after speech in Michigan,” Southern Poverty Law Center

Prepared by Jesus Rodriguez ‘19

Uploaded April 2, 2018