In the latest in a wave of events related to “white nationalism” on its campus, Auburn University announced last Friday it will be pulling the plug on an event set to feature Richard Spencer, a prominent figure in the nationalist movement.
According to Reuters, university officials said the cancellation was “based on legitimate concerns and credible evidence it will jeopardise the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors”. It did not elaborate further on the safety issue.
Spencer said he was incensed over the cancellation and considered it an attack on his right to free speech.
“I’m absolutely disgusted,” Spencer told Reuters. “That’s the only way to put it.”
Spencer claims his white supremacist organisation, the National Policy Institute, has paid nearly US$3,000 for room rental and security.
When his speaking engagement was announced, both alumni and students were reported to have decried his event on social media. Two separate protests were planned to take place before and after Spencer’s talk on campus.
In response, the university released a statement last week to detach itself from the “alt-right” leader’s views that have been branded as “neo-Nazi” by opponents, saying they “strongly” deplore his views that go against those of the school.
The university, however, continued to back Spencer’s “constitutional right to free speech” and was planning to allow him to hold his talk at the school’s Foy Hall Auditorium, even though it did not invite him there or has any affiliation with him.
In its latest announcement, however, Auburn appears to have reassessed the situation and decided to pull the plug completely. The university’s about-turn came after an assessment by the Auburn Police Division, which said the varsity’s move to cancel was “appropriate at this juncture”.
“Based on an assessment of possible civil unrest and criminal activity during a requested event, it is the opinion of the Auburn Police Division allowing Mr. Richard Spencer to proceed with his appearance at Foy Hall on April 22 would pose a real threat to public safety,” police said.
But Spencer is undeterred and said he would continue to speak, but at another location in Auburn.
“Auburn University is naive and has totally misunderstood who I am if they think I am going to politely back out of this. I will be there 100 percent,” he said.
“Auburn is going to rue the day they made this total bullsh*t decision. I will not back down. I will be there. This is going to be so much bigger than they ever imagined.”
Spencer rose to infamy last November when a video of him shouting “Hail Trump” while making Nazi salutes at a white nationalist gathering surfaced.
But the “alt-right” leader has a newfound opposition against US President Donald Trump, a topic that will be one of the focus in Spencer’s talk, on top of free speech issues.
Spencer also said on Twitter he would be “flying people to Auburn and purchasing safety gear” and that where would be “people to protect me and the activists”, as reported by The Plainsman.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which advocates and litigates against white supremacy groups, is instead advising students to ignore, and not protest Spencer’s visit, saying a confrontation is what Spencer wants.
“We’ve talked to some students who are organising counter-protests or are planning to go and confront him and such,” said SPLC outreach director Lecia Brooks. “We highly recommend against that.”