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Monday, Dec 11, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Alt-right leader Richard Spencer visit results in largely peaceful protests

Auburn Police Chief Paul Register said the protests and counter-protests Tuesday night resulted in three arrests

Auburn braced for the worst and hoped for the best ahead of a planned speech by alt-right leader Richard Spencer. In the end, Spencer encountered a mixed crowd at his speech, a few hundred largely peaceful protestors outside and a quiet end to the night.

Auburn Police Chief Paul Register said the protests and counter-protests Tuesday night resulted in three arrests.

"I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone," Register said. "It could have been a lot worse. I attribute the peaceful nature to the students."

The arrests were made at approximately 6 p.m. after a fight broke out between two middle-aged protestors. The pair only got in about two punches before police took them to the ground and restrained them using plastic restraints.

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The pair were not students, according to police. Register said police had no other major problems Tuesday night. Law enforcement was out in force, though, after receiving credible threats of violence ahead of the event and fearing the possibility of "civil unrest."

Inside of Foy Hall, where Spencer spoke to a crowd of about 300, reaction was mixed to his controversial comments. About half of the crowd, largely middle-aged white men who didn't appear to be students, rose often and clapped for Spencer. While the other half of the crowd, largely students seated toward the back of the auditorium, heckled and booed. 

In response to questions from students, Spencer bashed facts, calling them boring. He said he would "own slavery" because he understands the power of the white race, and he wants the white race to regain their identity.

More than half of the questions Spencer fielded in his Q&A session were from students who didn't appear supportive of his rhetoric — most of them made it obvious but asked substantive questions regardless. 

The alt-right speaker, who rose to national prominence after being punched at an anti-Trump rally in January, also criticized Auburn Athletics for "bringing in people they have nothing in common with" and said the SEC was "sick" because "black athletes are not part of the white identity."

Spencer said college football had become a "billion-dollar circus" and said he would ban college football if he had the choice. He spent much of the night attempting to clarify the "alt-right movement" — a term he coined himself.

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The prominent white nationalist advocated creating a new collective nation-state of all white people, which he said would help lift the "black cloud of pain, sin and weakness that is weighing us down."

"Diversity makes the world ugly," Spencer said. "It makes the world lose all meaning. It's a way of bringing to an end a nation and a culture that was defined by white people. I could go on for hours, but what is good about diversity?"

Before the event began Tuesday evening, a federal judge ruled in favor of Richard Spencer's right to speak on Auburn's campus. Last week, the University canceled Spencer's reservation for the Foy Auditorium.

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The Georgia college student who booked the Foy Hall reservation, Cameron Padgett, filed a motion in court Tuesday morning seeking an injunction to force the University to allow Spencer to speak.

The court on Tuesday granted that motion, attorneys for the plaintiff and the University told The Plainsman. Padgett is not from Auburn and is not an Auburn student. Spencer and his supporters paid $700 to rent Foy Auditorium and extra fees to pay for police security.

The judge said the University did not provide any supporting evidence that Spencer advocated violence.

The controversial white nationalist promised a showdown with University officials over freedom of speech on public college campuses after officials canceled his planned speech at Foy Hall. That showdown took place more in the courtroom than on the concourses of Auburn's campus.

“They think they have shut this down but they haven’t,” Spencer said last week. “I will give a speech on their campus. It is a public place. I think Auburn University is naive and has totally misunderstood who I am if they think that I am going to politely back out of this. I will be there 100 percent.”

Spencer promised Tuesday night was "going to be wild." That wasn't the case, though, according to police.

"I think it means a lot that the arrests weren't students," the police chief said. "It really speaks to how well behaved our students are."

Citing security and safety concerns — and the possibility of "civil unrest" — the University tried to cancel his visit late last week.

"In consultation with law enforcement, Auburn canceled the Richard Spencer event scheduled for Tuesday evening based on legitimate concerns and credible evidence that it will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors," a University spokesperson said in a statement.

On Twitter, Spencer said he would be "flying people to Auburn and purchasing safety gear." Spencer told The Plainsman in a phone interview they would be "people to protect me and the activists." There were dozens of "Antifa" antifascist protestors present along with dozens of alt-right Spencer supporters who claimed to be part of the "Traditional Workers Party," a far-right white nationalist group that supports ethnically pure nations.

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