White nationalist’s push for MSU draws swift reaction

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The day after blood stained the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, during one of the largest rallies of white nationals in decades, Michigan State University chief diversity officer Paulette Russell reached out to her counterpart at the University of Virginia.

“We have had our share of crises, but nothing at the level you are working through,” Russell wrote in an email to Dr. Marcus Martin, vice president and chief officer for diversity at UVA, where Richard Spencer had led fellow white supremacists across the campus that led to deadly clashes.

“I wanted to offer my support, and I was hoping to talk with you as we received a request by a speaker to be on our campus early next month that has significant ties to the alt-right,” Russell said.

Russell was referring to Spencer, who had approached MSU last summer to rent a room on the East Lansing campus. He was given a date in the fall 2017, and quoted a $1,000 fee to rent the room.

Her email was among 1,600 emails obtained by Clinton Township-based attorney Kyle Bristow, who represents Spencer and his organization, the National Policy Institute. In September, they sued MSU, which decided to deny Spencer speaking request in the wake of the violence in Virginia.

The emails, shared with media outlets by Bristow, show the visceral reaction in August among faculty, students, alumni and community as MSU was considering Spencer’s request to speak, especially after the events in Charlottesville.

“We do not want another Charlottesville in our own state,” wrote one person, whose name was redacted. “I would like to emphasize that the safety of students and of members of the community is at great risk. Public universities do honor free speech but its leaders, like yourselves, need to weigh this policy against the importance of the safety of the students and people living near the MSU campus...

“This is not who we are. STAND UP AND SPEAK OUT AGAINST HATE.”

Another person questioned Simon’s values. “Are you a real Spartan, President Simon? Act like one.”

But at least one person supported Spencer’s right to free speech.

“Though I in no way support the beliefs brought forth by this group, I do believe that freedom of speech is a vital part of our identity as a country and should not be hindered because of the content of its message,” a student wrote. “I hope if this group is allowed to rent space on campus that this will provide our students with the opportunity to learn how to argue and peacefully protest messages that we disagree with, rather than pretending they do not exist in our community.”

Representatives for Spencer also have asked to rent a room at the University of Michigan. UM has until Jan. 15 to respond.

Recently, President Mark Schlissel said the issue has thrust the university into a quandary.

“If the University of Michigan does not allow Richard Spencer to speak, we will surely be sued and we will lose and (that) would make Spencer more of a hero in his community,” said Schlissel. “We’d lift him up.”

But he also said: “If we can’t do a safe event, we won’t do it.”