White supremacist Richard Spencer and his supporters came to Michigan State University Monday afternoon and were met with protesters outside the Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education, where the event was held. In sum, two dozen were arrested by state and local authorities.
Spencer was not invited by MSU to speak on their campus, and his initial request to do so was rejected by the university. In the rejection, the university cited safety concerns based on the “Unite the White” rally in Virginia that resulted in the death of one woman.
This rejection was met with a lawsuit against MSU by Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student and Spencer’s booking agent and legal advocate. Padgett won the suit, resulting in an agreement from MSU to allow Spencer to speak at the university on March 5. Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon wrote in a statement the agreement to let Spencer speak was organized during the school's spring break in order to ensure the safety of the student’s on campus.
“This agreement was based on the university’s requirement that the event occur on a date and at a venue that minimizes the risk of violence or disruption to campus,” Simon wrote. “The security of our campus community remains our top priority and all appropriate security measures will be taken in connection with the event. Michigan State rejects this group’s divisive and racist messages and remains committed to maintaining a diverse campus and supporting an inclusive, just and democratic society.”
The event was held in a pavilion far from the center of campus and on the first day of MSU’s spring break in order to reduce the possibility of violence.
Despite that, for nearly two hours, police and protesters clashed as police protected Spencer supporters looking to attend the event.
More than 200 police officers stood around the pavilion, dressed in riot gear and equipped with tear gas guns and wooden batons. Some also wore body cameras.
From around 3:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., the police attempted to keep a pathway clear on the street for attendees to get to the pavilion where Spencer was speaking. They were often met with resistance from protesters, who the police estimated to be around 500 in number but The Daily observed to be about a thousand.
One protester, after blocking the road to prevent a police vehicle from proceeding, was arrested and carried away by officers.
A total of 24 people, including both the protesters and the Spencer supporters, were arrested and charged with both misdemeanors and felonies, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Protesters included people clad in all-black “antifa” dress, as well as students and people from surrounding areas. Detroit resident Lou Novak protested Spencer and his supporters outside the event.
“I came out here to protest the Nazis, the “alt-right,” the white supremacists coming to Michigan State University,” Novak said. “(They) don’t belong in our community. I’m certainly glad we’re doing something to reduce participation in this event.”
The largest group of about 20 Spencer supporters was met with resistance from the protesters, which led to a shouting match between the two groups. The Spencer supporters were eventually forced to turn back and couldn’t reach the pavilion.
It was unclear how tickets to the event were distributed, but The Daily could not gain press access to the event. News outlets including the Free Press, the Lansing State Journal and MLive were all initially denied press passes to the event with LSJ eventually gaining access.
RJ Wolcott, the LSJ reporter who attended the event, wrote that the crowd inside the pavilion was small, about “three dozen” in number. Spencer blamed the protesters for the number of ticket-holders—of which there were reportedly 150 — who were able to gain access.
Many of the protesters, including Michigan State senior Nathan Wikman, were there to also resist the police officers.
“I think they’re protecting fascists,” Wikman said. “I think they’re a part of a state institution that protects property and the right of fascists to organize over the rights of the people to be safe. You’ll see them trying to move this group out of the way so the Nazis can go inside the building and organize. They’re on their side. They’re not protecting us.”