This article has been updated with a statement from University Public Affairs noting they have received the request from Richard Spencer’s representative to speak at the University.
Throughout the past weekend, there was online speculation regarding Richard Spencer booking a speaking facility at the University. Rick Fitzgerald, assistant vice president for public affairs, confirmed via statement the University was made aware of this request later in the day Monday.
Spencer, a prominent white supremacist, heads the National Policy Institute, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group. Though he has attempted to speak about his beliefs on college campuses across the country, several university administrators, at the University of Florida, Texas A&M University and Michigan State University, have barred him from speaking due to safety concerns.
On Oct. 27, Michigan attorney Kyle Bristow, an alum of Michigan State University, tweeted: “This evening @CameronVPadgett requested to rent a room at @UMich for @RichardBSpencer to speak. Your move, @DrMarkSchlissel.”
Fitzgerald also noted the representative indicated flexibility with the potential date of visit.
In an email interview, Strobl noted Bristow used the name of Young Americans for Freedom without proper authorization while at Michigan State University, stating that his views were incompatible with those advocated by the YAF. He added that the YAF does not support the views espoused by Spencer.
“Bristow’s group at Michigan State University was never a chartered Young Americans for Freedom chapter, and used our name without authorization,” Strobl wrote in an e-mail statement. “YAF had a review process that this group at Michigan State University never applied for or went through. Bristow apparently never believed YAF’s policies, which included treating all individuals equally without reference to racial preferences. YAF prohibits racists and always has done so… We’ve never been an institution that welcomed or had room for a George Lincoln Rockwell, George Wallace, or Richard Spencer.”
Last year, Spencer told The Washington Post he watched a video of approximately 100 students staging a walkout at the University, in response to the Rev. Jesse Jackson demanding administrative action against racism and found pleasure in their chanting of “No alt-right. No KKK. No racist USA.” Spencer said he took great pleasure in getting under the skin of University students.
LSA senior Rowan Conybeare, the chair of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, said she believes the University should not let Richard Spencer have a platform on campus due to his hateful rhetoric tied to racist theories such as ethnic cleansing. She emphasized speech which incites violence should not be considered part of the First Amendment.
“College Democrats acknowledges the importance of free speech in a well-functioning democracy, but speech cannot be free when it works to incite violence and harm students. We expect the University of Michigan not to allow Richard Spencer to speak on campus,” she said. “This is a man who advocates for ethnic cleansing. The University needs to decide whether that kind of rhetoric is worth protecting over the safety and well-being of its marginalized students. Speech that incites violence — which is not constitutionally protected — should not be a partisan issue.”
She then called on College Republicans to protest Spencer as well, as she believes both organizations share the responsibility of fostering an equitable and inclusive campus culture.
“Since the election of Donald Trump, College Republicans has repeatedly insisted that they want to work toward inclusion on campus. If they are committed to this, they should protest with us. Hatred and white supremacy are violent on all sides of politics, and we all share the responsibility of changing our culture. If the University does not move to protect its students, we will step up, protest, and support marginalized students — and we expect other students to join us,” she said.
“This decision was made after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: ” ‘The Next Battlefield is in Florida,’” he wrote.
Fuchs adamantly stated although he disagrees with Spencer’s message, the University of Florida is dedicated to fostering a free exchange of ideas and rhetoric. However, in the case of Spencer, these ideas would put students in imminent danger of violence.
“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,” he wrote. “That said, the University of Florida remains unwaveringly dedicated to free speech and the spirit of public discourse. However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others.”
Despite the lack of institutional support for Spencer presenting his beliefs at the University of Florida, he was permitted to speak after Spencer’s lawyer, Gary Edinger, threatened to sue the University on first amendment grounds.
On October 19, Spencer spoke at the University of Florida amidst an outpouring of protests and disruptions in the event venue.
This intense analysis of the safety of allowing certain speakers on campus comes in the wake of the violence that occurred in August 2017 Charlottesville — where white nationalists and neo-Nazis planned a “take America back” rally, but were met with resistance from counterprotesters. In the ensuing chaos, Ohio resident James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into the crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.
When interviewed by The Daily in 2016, LSA senior Grant Strobl, founding chairman of the University of Michigan’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, emphasized his organization was not affiliated with the “alt-right,” though it has invited controversial speakers, such as Ben Shapiro, who has also spoken out against Richard Spencer, to speak before.
“Conservative ideas undermine and are not compatible with the alt-right,” he wrote in an email. “Conservatism has no place for racism.”
Fitzgerald said the University will consider Spencer’s request to visit.
“The university will carefully consider this request, paying close attention to the safety and security of our community,” he wrote.