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A spirit that is not afraid

Federal court rules in favor of Richard Spencer speech

UPDATED at 4 p.m. to include court updates.

A federal judge has ruled in favor of Richard Spencer's right to speak on Auburn's campus.

A supporter of Spencer, a white nationalist leader who is planning a rally at Auburn on Tuesday, filed a motion in court Tuesday seeking an injunction to force the University to allow him to speak. The court on Tuesday granted that motion, attorneys for the plaintiff and the University told The Plainsman.

The motion was filed in U.S. Federal District Court in Montgomery by Cameron Padgett — a Spencer supporter who said he booked Foy Hall for Spencer's speech — and his attorney.

"This is a matter involving the exercise of Plaintiff's rights as an American citizen to freedom of speech and to peaceable assembly to petition the governor for redress of grievances," his attorneys wrote in the order.

The attorney, Sam Dickson, said Tuesday afternoon that a federal judge ruled in their favor. The order has not yet been posted to the court's electronic filing system.

The University Office of Communications and Marketing confirmed the judge's decision and promised to abide by it.

"The university will abide by the judge's decision that Spencer be allowed to speak on campus tonight," Mike Clardy, Vice President of OCM, said. "We continue working closely with law enforcement officials to ensure the safety of the campus community."

In a letter to students regarding the Spencer event, Provost Timothy Boosinger, vice president for academic affairs, and Associate Provost Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president for inclusion and diversity, said Spencer would be allowed to speak in Foy Hall.

"This afternoon, a federal judge ruled that Auburn must allow Spencer to speak in the Foy Auditorium tonight," they said in their letter. "It is now more important than ever that we respond in a way that is peaceful, respectful, and maintains civil discourse. We are aware that various campus groups have planned events for this evening. Please know that additional security measures are being taken by the Auburn Police Division to uphold the safety of our community." 

Spencer first told The Plainsman Tuesday night that he and his supporters were seeking backing from the courts for their right to assembly and protest.

"An injunction has been filed," Spencer said yesterday. "We feel the law is on our side. I think it's very clear. The Supreme Court has been unequivocal in terms of supporting people in situations like ours."

Spencer said the motion seeking the injunction was filed Monday in Montgomery County, and University administrators were informed of its filing.

The controversial white nationalist has promised a showdown with University officials over freedom of speech on public college campuses after officials canceled his planned speech at Foy Hall.

“They think they have shut this down but they haven’t,” Spencer said. “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, who paid $700 to the University for renting Foy Hall and more for security with the Auburn Police Department, said he would have come to the University and would have "been civilized," had administrators not canceled his event.

He was set to speak at 7 p.m. before the cancellation of his event. Spencer still plans to be at the University Tuesday evening regardless of whether he receives permission from administrators.

"What I'm going to do now is I'm going to make this into a massive event," Spencer said. "This is going to be a huge challenge to see whether we have free speech in the United States or whether we don't."

Spencer rose to national prominence for being punched at an anti-Trump protest in January and has been criticized for his alt-right views, which are a combination of racism, white nationalism and populism.

Citing security and safety concerns — and the possibility of "civil unrest" — the University canceled his visit, according to a statement issued Friday afternoon.

"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 they would be "people to protect me and the activists."

Spencer's booking was canceled because of an assessment by the Auburn Police Division. Police may have a heightened presence on campus Tuesday ahead of Spencer's event and planned protests and rallies opposing his visit.

"The Auburn Police Division is continuing to work with its state and federal partners to monitor threat assessments associated with this event and will staff as appropriate to mitigate or assess any threats or safety concerns," said Assistant Chief William Matthews.

Several anti-Spencer events have been planned for Tuesday as well, including a music festival on the Greenspace, #AuburnUnites Music fest, intended to deny Spencer a platform on which to speak, the event's organizer said. The festival has been approved by the University and will be police protected.

UPDATE at 12:42 p.m.:

Students, faculty and staff should remain aware of their surroundings today, according to a University statement regarding Richard Spencer's visit to campus.

"In an effort to update the campus community regarding the recent cancellation of the Richard Spencer event, it is the university’s understanding that — despite our requests for him not to attend — Spencer may still appear on Auburn’s campus at some point today," the statement reads. "While the University does not know the specifics of if and when this event might unfold, the safety and security of the campus remains our highest priority. Students, faculty, and staff should remain aware of their surroundings and report any unusual or threatening activity to the Auburn Police Division (334-501-3100). The University is working closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and any new developments."

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