Spencer to face protesters Monday at MSU

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer is expected to face protests from students at Michigan State University when he appears Monday during a campus tour that has been mired in litigation.

Spencer will speak from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in a ticketed event at the auditorium in the Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education at MSU.

Spencer associate Cameron Padgett, who sued after MSU refused in August to rent space for the white nationalist leader, has agreed not to plan or organize any rally or similar event at MSU in connection with Spencer’s appearance, according to the terms of a federal court settlement.

In an email Friday to the campus community, interim MSU President John Engler said the event’s timing — during the school’s spring break — and remote location limit the risk of violence.

“Our staff found a way to keep safety as a top priority without abrogating First Amendment-protected speech, which in this case is plainly loathsome and in opposition to our values,” he said. “I want to assure everyone that MSU Police are taking all appropriate security measures.”

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John Truscott, a spokesman for Engler, stressed it is not an MSU event; Spencer and his supporters are only using an MSU venue.

Those who attend may have a little walk after parking, Truscott said. The speech is in the university’s pavilion and those who attend won’t be able to park nearby.

MSU is encouraging people to stay away and not give Spencer any attention, Truscott said.

“He is craving attention on a message that most people feel is pretty repugnant,” Truscott said. “We’d rather have people spend their time on something constructive.”

Former MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon said the university originally declined the request from Spencer’s organization last August because public safety is the university’s first obligation. Truscott said there will be security from MSU police, but it’s not clear how much.

“I know they are prepared,” he said.

Evan McLaren, spokesman for the National Policy Institute led by Spencer, said violence and protests are always a concern “but we cannot permit that concern to stop us from speaking.”

“My understanding is that, for the event itself, MSU is strictly obligated to remove people who disturb or disrupt the event. We also expect the physical security outside the venue to be up to the task of protecting attendees and maintaining public order,” McLaren said.

McLaren added Spencer is excited and looking forward to speaking at MSU.

Representatives of the “alt-right” leader, who advocates a mix of white supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant beliefs, are trying to negotiate a date for him to appear at the University of Michigan.

Other schools, including Ohio State University and Kent State University, have rejected requests from Spencer to speak on campus, leading to an attorney for Padgett, Kyle Bristow, to sue OSU. Bristow also sued the University of Cincinnati over the school’s demand for nearly $11,000 to defray expected security costs.

Multiple counterprotests are planned, starting at 9 a.m. Monday with a Rally for Unity until 9 p.m. Starting at noon, Stop Spencer at MSU will hold a protest in Commuter Lot 89 until 6:30 p.m. Another rally, hosted by Exposing Hateful Conservatives, is planned for 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the agriculture pavilion. Lastly, alternative events hosted by MSU College Republicans and the MSU student government will be held all day as students celebrate “Spartan Day of Love.”

Direct Action Training will be host a training on Saturday for those attending the protests on Monday.

MSU student president Lorenzo Santavicca said he and other student leaders have been working with campus organizations to plan the alternative events in hopes it will shed light on MSU’s diverse community.

“Students wanted to demonstrate our community is bigger and better than someone coming to preach about white supremacy,” Santavicca said. “We wanted to show our values and to do that we needed Spartans to come together as a student body.”

They will be doing community service from noon to 2 p.m. with Meals on Wheels and hold a Diversifest from 4-7 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church to celebrate diversity and “stand against the assertion of white supremacy.” They also will hold a free screening of Marvel’s “Black Panther” at 7:45 p.m.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Detroit News Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski and the Associated Press contributed.