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White Nationalist Richard Spencer Says He'll Speak At Auburn Despite His Event Being Canceled Over Security Fears

Students are fighting back at what they say is a rise in anti-Semitism on the Alabama university campus, where a "White Student Union" has also been distributing material.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Students at Alabama's Auburn University are speaking out after white nationalist leader Richard Spencer announced an upcoming speech on campus, where a "White Student Union" has also been distributing materials. University officials canceled the event on Friday, but Spencer said he would come anyway.

David J. Phillip / AP

Spencer is president of white supremacist think tank National Policy Institute and a leader of the alt-right movement. He has called for "peaceful ethnic cleansing" of non-white Americans.

Spencer rose to prominence during the annual NPI conference in November in Washington, DC, when he gave a speech full of Nazi-inspired language, greeting attendees with a salute of "Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!" and calling the media "Lügenpresse" (essentially the Nazi term for "fake news"). He also found viral fame when he got punched in the face on Inauguration Day.

The April 18 speech by Spencer was not planned by the Alabama university. Rather, Spencer reportedly paid $700 to use the space, as well as security provided by Auburn Police Division, a university spokesperson told al.com.

"We are a public university and our meeting space is for rent," Mike Clardy, a spokesperson for Auburn, told the news website. "Auburn supports the constitutional right to free speech, so we don't make decisions on who can rent based on content."

In a statement, university officials say they "strongly deplore" Spencer's views and "encourage the campus community to respond to speech they find objectionable with their own views in civil discourse and to do so with respect and inclusion."

The school released a statement on Friday, announcing Spencer's speech had been canceled due to "legitimate concerns and credible evidence that it will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff, and visitors."

However, Spencer told BuzzFeed News he would defy the university's decision and speak at Auburn on Tuesday anyway.

“Auburn made a stupid decision," he said. "I think they might have genuinely believed that I would back down and just go away. They could’ve done cursory research about me and realized that I’d never do that. This is going to be much more problematic and difficult for them."

"I will be on the Auburn University campus at 7 PM on Tuesday, April 18th," he vowed. "And I will hold a speech."

The initial announcement of Spencer's speech came on the heels of the forming of an "Auburn White Student Union," which covered the campus in anti-Semitic flyers late last week, right before Passover.

Facebook: AUSPLC

"The agenda of a 'White Student Union' is very similar to white nationalism," explained Lecia Brooks, the outreach director for Southern Poverty Law Center, to BuzzFeed News. "It’s kind of wrapped in the false equivalency between Black Student Unions and White Student Unions."

"People get caught up...like, ‘Oh well, Black Student Union, Latino Student Union, what’s the difference?'" she said. "Well, one is based in white supremacy and the other is not. The other is more of a cultural support group and cultural enrichment, where as White Student Unions are based in white supremacy."

The group — which is unofficial and not sanctioned by the university — calls itself "Whites of the Alt-Right Empowering Auburn Gentiles for Liberation and Enlightenment," an acronym for "War Eagle," the school motto.

The flyers include a link to AuburnWhiteStudentUnion.com, a website that lays out the group's goals and principles: advocating for "White people with a White future," and advocating against tolerance, diversity, and "lies of radical (Jewish-invented) feminism."

"Black-White Integration has failed miserably, and our country becomes ever more divided the more non-Whites it has," reads the website.

"Fortunately, we White conservatives are becoming increasingly energized and assertive following our victory in the Presidential election, and enjoying the wonderful freedom and clarity of purpose that comes with openly identifying as pro-White," it says.

The website provides no way to sign up for the group, but urges people who want to get involved to distribute flyers, such as the ones above, on campus. The flyers are no longer available on the site.

It also explains levels of membership: trial membership ("extended to people of White ancestry and good character"), full membership (which allows anonymity), and auxiliary membership ("for allies" with "some affinity for White culture").

The website calls Hillel, the world's largest Jewish campus organization, "blatantly treasonous" and dedicates multiple paragraphs to an imagined scene of a rabbi with "bushy eyebrows," "a 6-shaped nose," "a guttural accent," and a "hand covered in sparkling jewels."

In addition to the flyers, Auburn trademarks were later removed from the site, and a disclaimer was added noting the group is not officially affiliated with the university.

"This group isn't an Auburn student organization, and we find the views expressed in their materials reprehensible and unrepresentative of those of the university," university officials told The Plainsman.

Mike Clardy, assistant vice president of university communications, told The Plainsman that Auburn would investigate the possibility of trademark violations.

Brooks, of the SPLC, said they do not know who the group's members are — or even if it is actually a group.

"It could be an individual, a couple of individuals, who have picked up on the White Nationalist movement that’s taking place on college campuses today," she said.

Despite a New York address that is listed, the website was created in Florida, Bobby Woodard, vice president for student affairs and associate provost, told students on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, student groups including the Auburn campus chapter of the SPLC and Hillel held a town hall with university administrators, including its chief diversity officer.

It was at this town hall that an administrator announced that Richard Spencer would speak on campus the following week, leaving students "even more incensed."

Brooks said she understands why the university initially allowed Spencer to speak, but wishes they'd do more to condemn his views and educate students so they're not indoctrinated.

"The administration should be able to put it to the students and say, 'Of course you’re free to go, but...don’t become susceptible to their lies,'" she said. "This is not a neutral group. They have a specific agenda."

She also sees a larger issue of white nationalist groups actively trying to recruit college students.

"Are college administrators across the country just going to lay back and let them do it?" she said. "I mean, what is the responsibility of the administrators? Yes, they have a responsibility to let him speak, but they need to speak up as well."

Students and alumni of the Alabama college strongly denounced the initial announcement of Spencer's speech.

....This is a punch in the face to every minority student that goes to AU... I'm disappointed https://t.co/tmomLhvBIm

@Trogdoryn @AuburnU Richard Spencer promotes ethnic cleansing, white supremacy, and other forms of targeted hate sp… https://t.co/tEI3kppHx1

.@AuburnU As an alum, I'm apalled re: Richard Spencer speaking on campus. Do not expect $ from me or my wife ever again if this happens.

Though many non-student white nationalists and others said they would attend, or encouraged others to attend.

@RichardBSpencer will be a guest in the south. If arrangements can be made I'm going. Southern Chads do not tolerat… https://t.co/0XUlhRj6fk

ALL BAMA GOYS GET IN ON THIS https://t.co/J9xynlKSru

@RichardBSpencer I wish I could make it Brother. If you ever come to Texas again I'll be there. Keep up the great… https://t.co/bowAtRdHBq

Auburn SPLC and other student groups planned to come together during Spencer's speech to hold a separate event on the other side of campus.

Allen Forrest / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Via Flickr: al904

"It’ll also be a town hall where they can engage in dialogue about all the issues that are going on, and administrators will come and hear their issues," said Brooks. "What we’re counseling them is to take all the attention away from Richard Spencer and have their own counter-event."

They hoped this event would take the place of a protest, because attention is exactly what Spencer wants, said Brooks.

Still, some students also planned to come together in protest against the Spencer speech.

"The idea isn't to silence his opinion," said Raye Hendrix, a graduate teaching assistant at Auburn, who was organizing a protest. "Instead we'd like to be there as a presence of calm opposition, especially for Jewish and minority students, and even conservatives who disagree."

Lily Buder, the president of Auburn Hillel, told BuzzFeed News she's "heartbroken" over the anti-Semitic events.

"We’re in disbelief, honestly," she said. "That’s not what the community here stands for."

Buder thinks the timing of the flyers and speech were specifically intended to stoke fear around a major Jewish holiday.

"I’m fine with people’s differences in opinions," Buder said. "But it’s the fact that Richard Spencer thinks if you are non-white and non-Christian, you are less than him, and you don’t deserve the same rights and liberties that he does."

And Jews aren't the only community that's been targeted, she said — especially since the election.

“The word 'Arab' with devil eyes was spray painted on an apartment complex next to campus. It was large — maybe five by seven feet, and it was red, aggressive and violent. They still don’t know who was behind it," she said.

In spite of the recent events, Auburn Hillel still came together for a Passover Seder on Wednesday. It's expected to be one of their biggest ones ever.

"Despite the recent occurrences, we’re here to stay," Buder said. "We’re part of the Auburn family. We’re not going to hide, we’re not going to bow down to the hate that they’re spreading, because we have every right to be here, and we have every right to be proud."

UPDATE

This post has been updated to reflect that Spencer's speech has been canceled.

Julia Reinstein is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Julia Reinstein at julia.reinstein@buzzfeed.com.

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