Auburn’s SEC neighbors are trying to avoid an incident similar to what the University experienced last spring when white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke on campus.
After a University cancellation, Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization based in Virginia, pushed in court to be permitted to speak on Auburn’s campus.
The University was then ordered by a federal judge to allow Spencer to speak in Foy Hall. The April 18 event was met with protesters and supporters from all over the state and surrounding areas.
Spencer has recently requested to speak at other Southern schools, including LSU, Texas A&M and the University of Florida. They have all turned him down.
Janine Sikes, assistant vice president of public affairs for UF, said the recent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead and multiple people injured is the reason schools are denying Spencer from speaking.
“The main difference I see between how things panned out at Auburn with Richard Spencer and how we are handling it is Charlottesville,” Sikes said. “Our decision was solely based on safety concerns, not ideology.”
LSU President F. King Alexander recently made a similar statement to Louisiana newspaper The Advocate, saying that safety was the school’s main concern.
“We will take the necessary precautions to ensure that our campus is safe from violence, that our students and faculty are safe from people trying to stir up troubles,” Alexander told The Advocate.
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Spencer supporters online were making it clear that violence at these rallies would not be off the table.
Mitch Emerson, the organizer of a protesting Facebook page at UF called “No Nazis at UF,” said many alt-right groups were making violent threats on online forums, even calling the state of Florida “the next battleground.”
“There were a lot of postings we were able to show from various white supremacist pages that were saying that because Florida is a ‘stand your ground’ state, that they could get away with shooting somebody over anything,” Emerson said.
A “stand your ground” law is a legal justification that gives defendants the right to protect or defend themselves with force without attempting to retreat from danger. Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas all have similar statutes in place.
At Texas A&M, similar online threats were made. According to The Dallas Morning News, many Spencer supporters were openly discussing bringing weapons to the rally.
Citing Charlottesville and violent threats as a main concern has helped these universities avoid court battles with Spencer so far. When Spencer took Auburn University to court, he approached the cancellation as a free speech violation. Now, that argument is less valid.
There are no known plans so far by Spencer to bring any of these universities to court, Sikes said.
If he does decide to visit any of these schools, it appears their student bodies are prepared to protest like Auburn University students did. All three schools have active Facebook protest pages.
For the future, Emerson hopes that Americans can come together and strive toward equality. He suggests starting small by combatting racism that may not be in the news headlines.
“We often get engaged with the larger scale events, but the real battle is not just fighting so that white supremacists aren’t holding these speaking events and rallies,” Emerson said. “It’s about fighting the institutional racism in your own community that has fostered their growth for decades.”
Aug. 31, 2017 UPDATE:
On Wednesday, Aug. 30, UF President W. Kent Fuchs issued a statement regarding Spencer's attempts to rent space at the university in September.
"We were informed late this afternoon that representatives of the (National Policy Institute) have retained legal counsel and plan to pursue efforts to hold this event as originally requested," Fuchs said. "No formal complaint has been filed at this time. We are prepared to vigorously defend our decision. The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority. "