University of Buffalo – May 1, 2017

Buffalo, NY

Richard Spencer, a leader in the white nationalist movement, was invited by a conservative student group called Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to speak on the University of Buffalo’s (UB) campus. His speech, titled, “Exposing Radical Islam: The Dangers of Jihad in Today’s World,” was interrupted by protesters. Spencer told the disruptive audience that their actions were “quintessentially fascist.” While the majority of attendees refused to let Spencer be heard, drowning out his microphoned voice, one Muslim UB graduate student stood and urged the audience to allow him to speak. In addition, the crowd became quieter when Spencer agreed to debate with the Imam of the Jami Mosque in Buffalo.

Key Players

Richard Spencer is president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank dedicated to “the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent,” according to the organization’s website. In November 2016, Spender addressed a National Policy Institute convention and shouted “Hail Trump!” in a manner that provoked members of his audience to give a Nazi-like salute. In January 2017, Spencer was punched in the face by a masked assailant during President Trump’s inauguration. Spencer’s membership was revoked by a gym in Alexandria. VA, due to his political beliefs.

Alexandra Prince is a UB graduate student who circulated a petition labeling Spencer a “notorious Islamophobe and hate monger”. The goal of her petition was to stop student funds from financing Spencer’s visit by claiming that he posed a tangible threat to UB students.

Akram Shibly, a graduate student at UB and a Muslim, urged protesters to let Spencer speak, “so we can speak back,” The Buffalo News reported.

Imam Pasha Syed, of the Jami Mosque in Buffalo, was permitted by police to enter the the venue to debate Spencer toward the end of his lecture. The debate prolonged the event by approximately an hour.

Lynn Sementilli is president of the UB chapter of YAF. She introduced Spencer prior to his remarks.

Further Details

The YAF chapter at the University of Buffalo has had its charter since February 2016. One of its primary goals is to bring more conservative speakers to UB to deliver lectures. In April 2017, the group announced it had invited Spencer to speak the next month. As a member of the YAF speakers bureau, he visits many college campuses.

Many of Spencer’s books have been subject to criticism by Islamic groups, as he often attributes acts of terrorism conducted by Muslims to their religious beliefs. When it was determined that Spencer would speak at UB, his planned visit to campus sparked controversy. A petition was circulated that attempted to block student funds from being used to help fund it. The petition classified Spencer as a threat, asserting that his work may have incentivized terrorist Anders Behring Breivik to kill 77 people in Norway in 2011.

The petition was unsuccessful, and Richard Spencer arrived at UB as planned. His lecture was filled to capacity, reports The Buffalo News. Protesters reportedly arrived up to two hours early to organize their demonstration. Spencer addressed an audience of 200, the majority of whom made it clear throughout the event that they did not agree with his views. Additionally, approximately 100 individuals were not permitted to enter the space due to fire safety codes.

Once the lecture began, Spencer was drowned out by audience members. Although Spencer used a microphone, he was not able to be heard and used his phone a few times to record the crowd’s disruptions.

Outcome

Spencer delivers speech despite protests

Although he was shouted down and vigorously protested, Spencer managed to deliver a speech and partake in a debate with a local Imam. Following the event, he left campus safely and university police reported no arrests or violent incidents.

YAF hopes to bring more speakers to campus

Sementilli made clear that she was saddened by the disruptive protests. However, she said, “We will continue to try and bring speakers to campus and coordinate them well so there will be a productive dialogue,” The Buffalo News reports.

External References:

No violence, but UB speaker greeted with tension, heckling, The Buffalo News

Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18

September 24, 2017