He was greeted by protests that quickly turned violent and led to three arrests.
Auburn police spokesman Capt. Lorenza Dorsey told the Associated Press three people were arrested for disorderly conduct, though it remains unclear if they were protesters or attendees of Spencer’s talk. A video released by AL.com showed a man with spiked hair and a bloody face on the ground, his hands cuffed behind his back.
Hundreds gathered before his talk around Foy Hall, where Spencer appeared, according to AL.com. The video showed a portion of this crowd chanting, “No alt-right. No KKK. No racist USA.” One protester carried a sign reading, “Fighting Fascism an American Tradition Since 1941.”
Spencer indeed cited race during his speech, saying, “The alt-right is about being a white person, being a European in the 21st century,” and later adding, “There’d be no history without us.”
Controversy surrounding Spencer’s appearance stretched back for a week before Tuesday’s talk, though. Many attempted to bar Spencer from speaking at Auburn and had succeeded until a federal judge intervened.
Cameron Padgett, identified in court documents as an Atlanta-area resident, paid $700 to rent out the 400-seat Foy Auditorium at Auburn for Spencer to speak. When the talk was announced, many student groups voiced concerns that Spencer — perhaps best known for shouting “Let’s party like it’s 1933” at a conference of white nationalists in Washington — might incite violence on campus.
Initially, Auburn released a statement that said, “We strongly deplore his views, which run counter to those of this institution. While his event isn’t affiliated with the university, Auburn supports the constitutional right to free speech.”
On Friday, though, Auburn canceled the event, posting this brief statement: “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.”
The mere promise of divisive speakers like Spencer has previously ignited violent riots. The University of California Berkeley canceled an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos after protesters caused $100,000 worth of damage to its campus and threw fireworks, rocks and molotov cocktails at buildings and police. At least six were injured.
“I’m not going to allow that to happen,” Spencer told the Plainsman, Auburn’s student newspaper, after the cancellation announcement. “Auburn is going to rue the day that they made this total bulls— decision. I will not back down. I will be there. This is going to be so much bigger than they ever imagined.”
Police, meanwhile, told the student paper, “Based on an assessment of possible civil unrest and criminal activity during a requested event, it is the opinion of the Auburn Police Division that allowing Mr. Richard Spencer to proceed with his appearance at Foy Hall on April 22 would pose a real threat to public safety.”
Padgett sued Auburn, which as a public institution must adhere to the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. The lawsuit stated: “Various minority advocacy groups of Jews, Blacks and immigrants and left-wing/liberal groups demanded that no forum be afforded for the expression of views that contradict their own and which they find unhelpful for their identity group agendas and political agendas.”
Spencer previously advocated for an all-white country, stating in 2013, “We need an ethno-state, so that our people can ‘come home again,’ can live amongst family and feel safe and secure.”
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday barred Auburn from blocking Spencer, stating there was no evidence that he advocates violence.
“Discrimination on the basis of message content cannot be tolerated under the First Amendment,” he wrote in the ruling.
“This is a moment to savor,” Spencer said in a video shot outside the Montgomery courthouse and posted to Twitter after the ruling. “We just achieved a great victory. It was certainly a great victory for the alt-right, but it’s a great victory for free speech, for identifiable movements around the world, really.”
Auburn released a third statement, urging any protesters to remain peaceful.
Auburn University supports the rights and privileges afforded by the First Amendment. However, when the tenets of free speech are overshadowed by threats to the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, we have a responsibility to protect our campus and the men and women who unite our academic community. The decision to cancel the Richard Spencer event last week was informed by leadership from all of the university’s shared governance groups and the Auburn Police Division, all of whom articulated legitimate concerns for the safety and security of our campus.
This afternoon, a federal judge ruled that Auburn must allow Spencer to speak in the Foy Auditorium tonight. It is now more important than ever that we respond in a way that is peaceful, respectful, and maintains civil discourse.
Those protests did not remain peaceful.
|Kimberly Costen, Auburn freshman, yells at supporters of Richard Spencer’s right to speak. (Albert Cesare/Montgomery Advertiser via AP)|
White nationalist Spencer speaks at Auburn; 3 arrested
AUBURN, Ala. — White nationalist Richard Spencer spoke in a crowded auditorium at Auburn University on Tuesday after a federal judge blocked the school from banning his appearance.
Only a few chairs were empty in the more than 400-seat room as Spencer and other speakers railed against ethnicity and racial diversity, liberals, the media and more. They say they want to promote white pride.
Spencer previously made news by addressing a far-right gathering where audience members gave a Nazi salute.
Supporters and opponents engaged in shouting marches beforehand. Auburn police spokesman Capt. Lorenza Dorsey said three people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges.
Video posted online shows two men scuffling outside the building where Spencer spoke, with one suffering a facial cut and bleeding afterward. Officers led both men away, and one woman also was handcuffed.
A judge cleared the way for Spencer's speech after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by a Georgia man who rented the room where he spoke. The suit claimed the university violated free-speech rights by trying to stop Spencer's appearance.
Auburn officials cited public safety concerns in trying to stop Spencer from appearing in the student union building.
Against its wishes, Auburn hosts white nationalist Richard Spencer
Auburn, Alabama (CNN)At least two people were arrested Tuesday at Auburn University amid mostly peaceful protests over the appearance of white nationalist Richard Spencer, whose speaking events have sparked an outcry at other schools.
A crowd of several hundred had gathered by early evening at the public university in eastern Alabama, monitored by dozens of police officers with police dogs. Student groups organized a concert before the speech in what they called a peaceful counter to Spencer's hate speech.
Elsewhere on campus, students told CNN they witnessed a fistfight between a Spencer supporter and a protester that ended with police arresting both men.
Inside, hundreds of people packed Foy Hall, many of whom appeared too old to be traditional students, as Spencer delivered on his reputation for inflammatory rhetoric.
There were several attempts to shout him down as he extolled the virtues of being white and and called on whites to fight for their rights. People called him names and yelled at him to get to his point.
Spencer's supporters occasionally chanted, "Let him speak" when he was interrupted.
Reiterating his key talking points, Spencer denounced diversity as "a way of bringing to an end a nation and a culture" defined by white people.
"There would be no history without us," he said, prompting shouts from the crowd. "The alt-right is really about putting Humpty Dumpty back together again."
Though the auditorium was packed when Spencer began speaking, the crowd thinned considerably toward the end of Spencer's two-hour speech.
Hundreds of students and protesters congregated outside Foy Hall. Students in the crowd reported arguments and plenty of flags and protest placards during the speech but no real violence aside from the fight before the Spencer event.
But as several dozen Spencer supporters exited the auditorium following his remarks, the students and protesters spotted them and gave chase. The mob chased them off campus and through downtown.
Free speech or hate speech?
It was an event that almost did not happen.
Spencer, 38, director of the white nationalist think tank National Policy Institute, has been a target for his radical beliefs. He has advocated a "peaceful ethnic cleansing," where people who are not of European descent voluntarily leave the United States.
After President Donald Trump's election victory last November, Spencer addressed a gathering of the alt-right movement at which he shouted, "Hail Trump!" and audience members apparently gave Nazi salutes. On the day of Trump's inauguration, he was punched in the face by a masked assailant during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
He said his Auburn appearance was sponsored by AltRight.com, a white nationalist site. He paid $700 to rent the hall and an additional fee for security from the Auburn Police Department, according to The Plainsman, an Auburn student newspaper.
Citing safety concerns, Auburn canceled the event Friday. Then, a federal judge granted Spencer's request for an injunction, effectively ordering Auburn to host his speaking event as originally scheduled.
"While Mr. Spencer's beliefs and message are controversial, Auburn presented no evidence that Mr. Spencer advocates violence," U.S. District Court Judge W. Keith Watkins said in his ruling, noting that peaceable free speech is protected by the Constitution.
'Our goal is to not be the next Berkeley'
Debates over free speech on college campuses have flared up in recent months after appearances by such controversial speakers as Charles Murray and Milo Yiannopoulos. A scheduled speech by Yiannopoulos sparked violent protests in February at the University of California-Berkeley.
The injunction prompted Auburn administrators to call for peace Tuesday amid what it called attempts from uninvited, unaffiliated, off-campus groups to provoke racially divisive, disruptive conflict.
"Auburn University supports the rights and privileges afforded by the First Amendment. However, when the tenets of free speech are overshadowed by threats to the safety of our students, faculty and staff, we have a responsibility to protect our campus," the Provost's Office said in a statement.
Last week, the university issued a statement that said in part, "We strongly deplore his views, which run counter to those of this institution. While his event isn't affiliated with the university, Auburn supports the constitutional right to free speech."
But two days later, the university said it was canceling Spencer's visit "based on legitimate concerns and credible evidence that it will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors."
The challenges seemed to embolden Spencer. That same day, Spencer told his 56,000 Twitter followers he was flying to Auburn and purchasing safety gear.
"They think they have shut this down, but they haven't," Spencer told The Plainsman 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."
'Protesting is the best thing we can do'
Jakobi Bailey, a black sophomore from Pelham, Alabama, said he was initially "kind of mad" when he learned that his school had rented space to someone like Spencer, but once he realized that it was public space that anyone could rent, his anger waned.
"People started talking about it, and protesting is the best thing we can do since we can't run him out of here," the 20-year-old said.
Shannon Arthur, 22, a senior had helped organize several minority student groups -- including the Black Student Union, NAACP and Hillel, a Jewish group -- to protest Spencer. But the groups and their leaders were targeted, some by name, on social media before the speech so they opted to join a peaceful protest near the school's football stadium.
They informed the Auburn police that they'd be wearing orange ribbons on their wrists so that authorities could differentiate them in the event of violence, she said.
"You saw Berkeley," Arthur said. "Seeing people really get hurt and bloody is something we don't want for our school population."
Several student groups sought to counter the tension over Spencer's visit by holding an outdoor concert under the hashtag #AuburnUnites.
"I feels like it has less chance of going awry than marching down the street," said Cassidy Kulhanek, a 23-year-old Auburn graduate.
In the shadow of mammoth Jordan-Hare Stadium, bands played in the university green space, which was encompassed in metal police barricades.
Students handed out pizza and shirts with the group's hashtag, which had been made on site with a stencil and bleach.
"We're trying to block hate speech with music and positive ideas and unity," said organizer Jakob Geiger, 19, a sophomore studying political science and English. "We think this is a more effective message to the outside and to our minority students. Our goal is to not be the next Berkeley."