Atlanta Journal Constitution, Chris Joyner, April 19, 2017
Richard Spencer spoke Tuesday at Auburn University in a campus auditorium filled with a mix of alt-right disciples and critics and over the objections of university officials.
Earlier in the week, university administrators attempted to block the alt-right leader from speaking on public safety grounds. Spencer vowed to come to campus anyway and appealed the university’s decision to federal officials in Montgomery.
A few hours before the scheduled speech, U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins ordered the university to accommodate Spencer, who had paid to rent a hall on the public university campus.
“We won a victory that is going to have echoes around the world,” Spencer said to loud applause, largely from the front of the hall where a group almost exclusively of white men sat. University officials estimated the crowd inside to be 430 people.
Outside, counter-protesters, organized in large part by a group of anti-fascist activists from Atlanta, attempted to disrupt the appearance. The counter protesters clashed immediately with campus police who demanded the group remove bandanas and masks.
“You want to go to jail for loitering or do you want to take your mask off,” one police officer said, grabbing a masked female counter-protester.
Tensions on campus were high. Afternoon classes were cancelled; many buildings were locked down. Police were everywhere. Three counter-protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct, according to a university police spokesman.
Following the speech, a small group of Spencer’s alt-right supporters left the campus hall and fled on foot as hundreds of students chased them off campus at a full sprint.
His Auburn speech itself was a kind of rambling discourse on white identity and meaning in a modern, “global, capitalist, consumer” society — often building to a shouted crescendo that provoked applause from his supporters and hoots and boos from others.
Throughout the hour-long appearance, Spencer deflected catcalls from the audience, often turning them around on his critics.
Spencer’s visit is the latest in a series of disturbing episodes this month on the southeastern Alabama university’s campus, including leaflets from a group describing itself as the Auburn White Student Union expressing racist and anti-Semitic sentiments. The university released a statement calling the fliers “reprehensible” and encouraged students and faculty to respond “with their own views in the spirit of robust exploration of ideas.” But some student organizations urged a stronger official response from the administration.
While unsuccessful in their attempt to stop the event, Auburn officials sought to further distance themselves from Spencer’s divisive speech.
In a joint statement Tuesday, Auburn’s vice presidents for academic affairs and inclusion and diversity said, “Whether it’s offensive rhetoric, offensive flyers around campus or inappropriate remarks on social media, we will not allow the efforts of individuals or groups to undermine Auburn’s core values of inclusion and diversity and challenge the ideals personified by the Auburn Creed.”