Richard Spencer, a leader in the alt-right movement who wants to speak on the Auburn University campus Tuesday night. University officials have denied his request. Mr. Spencer has stated that Auburn University will "rue the day" they denied him the opportunity to speak on campus.
Mr. Spencer is a provocateur. He makes his money by expressing outrageous opinions. That’s his act, his shtick. And now he wants to bring his traveling white nationalist carnival to our campus.
One of the first steps any group of advocates or protesters must take in advancing their cause is to petition the establishment, to use the normal discursive means of persuasion. In other words, Mr. Spencer must first follow all the rules. Let him request a meeting with university officials, show up to Samford Hall wearing a suit and tie. He could even bring coffee and a couple boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. And if university officials still refuse to grant him permission to speak on campus, then he should take them to court. Let him stand before a judge and argue that Auburn University, a public institution of higher learning, is preventing him, a law-abiding American citizen, from exercising his First Amendment right of free speech. He has followed Auburn’s policies and procedures. He has completed the requisite paperwork and paid the fees. What else does Auburn University want from him?
But Mr. Spencer is not interested in engaging with Auburn students and faculty on an intellectual level, to use logic and reason to persuade us that his ideas have merit and that his cause is just. He wants to start a fight. He wants a physical confrontation with police and protesters. He wants the situation to descend into chaos. He knows it will make great television.
My advice is to treat Mr. Spencer as you would radioactive waste. Stay away from him. Don’t give him your attention, your energy, or your time. Don’t let him use you as a prop in his street theater. Don’t give him the moral high ground.
We are in the final weeks of the semester. All of us, faculty and students, have plenty of work to do before final exams begin. Richard Spencer is a distraction. Let him strut and fret his hour upon some other stage.
David Sutton is an associate professor in the School of Communication and Journalism.