The University of Michigan could deny Richard Spencer a victory by agreeing to let the white nationalist speak on the Ann Arbor campus. Spencer was not looking for an audience when he asked to address the liberal campus; he was seeking a confrontation the school likely could not win.
UM President Mark Schlissel and the regents who supported him disappointed Spencer in agreeing to enter talks aimed at finding a time and venue for the speech that would be the least disruptive and dangerous for students.
Michigan State University chose a different path last spring in denying Spencer the right to speak on security grounds, and is now engaged in a lawsuit that is forcing the college to defend its commitment to free speech.
While some regents, led by Democrat Denise Ilitch, argued for rejecting the request, Schlissel framed the controversy in just the right way.
“Because of our position as a public university,” he said, “we really don’t have the option of censoring speech, nor would we want that option.”
Talks will now get underway to protect the campus from the violent disruptions that have occurred at Spencer speeches.
He was at the helm of the march of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., this spring that turned into a riot and left one protester dead.
Having cheated Spencer of the legal fight he relished, the UM community could further frustrate him by completely ignoring his event.
He has a right to speak, but he doesn’t have a right to be listened to.
As Republican Regent Andrea Fischer Newman noted: “Our principles will not be weakened by those who do not share them but rather strengthened and tempered by our resiliency in defending them.”
Spencer and his small band of followers are intent on chaos. They know their speech will provoke passionate protests, and, quite possibly, violent clashes between his supporters and the protesters.
But if nobody showed up, if life went on as normal at UM and Spencer appeared only before his rag-tag devotees, he likely would pack up and leave. What’s the point of being incendiary if nobody takes the bait?
Schlissel and the regents should engage in an “Ignore Spencer” campaign aimed at encouraging students and others who might be inclined to protest to stay far away from the venue where he is speaking. Perhaps they could sponsor a unity rally at another site.
Of course, the wild card is the anti-fascist activists who will show up, as they always do, to try to disrupt the speech. They are out for the same thing as Spencer: chaos.
Ann Arbor and university officials should handle the antifa group the same way they do the white nationalists by putting rules in place to limit their ability to bring violence to the campus.
What Spencer craves is to drag good people down to his despicable level. By letting the speech happen, but denying it an audience, the University of Michigan comes out the winner.