The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
Saturday, lawyer Kyle Bristow announced he will no longer assist white supremacist Richard Spencer in various high-profile lawsuits with universities involving free speech. Negotiations between the University of Michigan and Spencer to schedule an on-campus speaking event will continue without Bristow.
Bristow officially represented Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who assists Spencer in booking events at college campuses across the country. Bristow was also involved in negotiating with the University on Spencer’s behalf. In January, the University failed to meet the third deadline given by Spencer’s team for possible event dates and Bristow threatened to file a lawsuit.
The negotiating parties recently established the event would not be held this winter semester. Instead, the University will offer Spencer’s team possible dates after the semester is over, likely in the summer term.
In addition to no longer representing Padgett, Bristow resigned his role as executive director of the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, a Michigan-based nonprofit Bristow describes as, “the sword and shield of the Alt-Right.” Bristow claimed the decisions were due to “horrifically disparaging articles” recently published about him. Thursday, both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit Metro Times published articles highlighting Bristow’s political activism as an undergraduate student at Michigan State University.
As president of a conservative student group on campus called Young Americans for Freedom, Bristow held an event called “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day.” In response, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated the organization a “hate group,” making it the first student organization to hold such a label. In college, Bristow also told a campus publication homosexuality killed as many people as cigarettes. In his resignation announcement, Bristow said the articles juxtaposed the “regrettable statements” with his “legitimate and meritorious legal advocacy on behalf of people and organizations who espouse political views which happen to be controversial.”
“In light of the recent relentless and unjustifiable vilification of me, as well as the mischaracterizations of who I am as a person, I have unilaterally made the decision to provide this clarification and to withdraw from politics,” Bristow wrote.
LSA senior Grant Strobl, the National Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, said the group Bristow led at MSU was not officially affiliated with the national organization bearing the same name.
“Bristow’s group at Michigan State University was never a chartered chapter Young Americans for Freedom, and used our name without authorization. The group Bristow organized claims to be a chapter but was never affiliated with the national organization. YAF had a review process that this group at Michigan State University never applied for or went through,” Strobl wrote in an email to the Daily. “YAF prohibits racists and always has done so.”
Spencer, however, has expressed views similar to those of Bristow a decade ago. Though Spencer banned homophobes from his National Policy Institute’s conference in 2015, he does not support gay marriage and finds homosexuality “unnatural in the deepest sense of that word.” Spencer also opposes the legal immigration of people not from Europe.
When MSU declined Spencer’s request to speak on the university’s campus in August, Bristow filed a lawsuit on his behalf. After a judge ordered the parties into mediation, MSU agreed to allow Spencer to hold an event on campus March 5. Though he originally planned on coming, Bristow said he will no longer be in attendance.
Bristow has been notably hostile toward the University of Michigan and the administration’s failure to act before Spencer’s team deadlines. While he would not say what remained to be worked out by the University and Spencer’s team, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he didn’t know how Bristow’s resignation would affect negotiations.
“It’s too soon to know the implications of this decision down the road,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily.