‘Nazis Go Home!’ Fights Break Out at Michigan State As Protesters, White Supremacists Converge for Richard Spencer Speech
Simon D. Schuster and Susan Svrluga, Washington Post, March 5, 2018
Fights broke out between white supremacists and protesters Monday as anti-fascist activists, students and community members converged in and around Michigan State University to counter a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Hours before the speech began, police blocked access to the venue as protesters, including some masked antifascists, gathered outside and hundreds marched toward the speech venue shouting, “Nazis go home!”
As some of Spencer’s supporters and people planning to attend the speech arrived on campus, masked protesters shouted obscenities at white supremacists and at police. A group of white nationalists marching down the road toward the venue — Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education — was blocked by protesters. Shouts turned to punches thrown at protesters, but the group was forced by protesters away from the pavilion where Spencer later spoke.
But as others arrived to attend the speech, which was delayed past its planned 4:30 p.m. start time, a mob of protesters swarmed around them. A circle of law enforcement officers protected those wishing to go in, but two were pushed to the ground. Another man wanting to attend the event was pelted with sticks, dirt and cans by protesters.
Two were blocked from entering, despite the police escort. They bowed as they retreated, to jeers from the crowd.
The Detroit Free Press showed video of protesters screaming at police to a steady drumbeat, one kicking the bicycle of an officer, screaming, “Nazi cops!”
Capt. Doug Monette, a spokesman for the MSU police department, said two dozen arrests, including felonies, were made. He said there were some weapons charges, as well as charges of hindering and obstructing, but that it was too soon to confirm individuals involved.
He said that more than 150 tickets had been distributed, but many people were not able to get through the chaos outside. “In terms of suppressing attendance, they really achieved that.”
Omar Karim, an MSU student and member of the local anti-fascist group Solidarity & Defense, said he is proud of the protesters. “These are my friends and family and co-workers, my brothers and sisters, people I get coffee with. These are people who I walk my dog with. This is my community. And my community in here in our home, representing our home, fighting against fascist ideology.”
Days later, MSU officials denied Spencer’s request to speak at the public university, citing concerns about safety. But in January, after settling a lawsuit brought by a supporter, the school agreed to allow an event on campus. “Michigan State is wholly dedicated to freedom of speech, not just as a public institution, but as an institution of higher education, ” university officials explained in a public statement in January. “Here, ideas — not people — are meant to clash and to be evaluated based on their merits.”
On Monday morning, Spencer said it is “very, very sad,” that they have to sue, or threaten to sue, universities simply for the right to engage in debate in a public forum. “The obstacles just keep rising — it’s very difficult to continue,” he said. “But we have to . . . as opposition mounts, we know that we’re making more and more of an impact.”
Still, protesters gathered in the bright but chilly air, a coalition of students, faculty and residents called Stop Spencer at MSU, to march on the pavilion.
Josh Lown, a protest organizer and graduate student at Michigan State, said midday Monday that they were hoping to avoid violence while disrupting Spencer’s appearance as much as possible. He said they want to “make Richard Spencer and his motley crew know that they’re not welcome here. We’re a very loving and diverse community, and we don’t want this speech to turn into normalcy.”