East Lansing Public Library holds public discussion concerning Richard Spencer's MSU visit
Monday evening the East Lansing Public Library held an event for members of the public. The community was invited to openly discuss their concerns about Richard Spencer’s impending visit to MSU.
The public discussion event was organized by the Facebook page, "Stop Spencer at MSU Coalition" in light of last month’s decision by the university to grant Spencer a public space to talk on campus. According to the Facebook page, the coalition is “dedicated to resisting Richard Spencer's visit to MSU.”
Spencer, a white supremacist and the president of the National Policy Institute, will speak in the auditorium of the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on March 5. For many of those who attended Monday’s community discussion and panel, the idea of Spencer visiting reflects poorly upon the university.
Erika Hodges, an alumna of MSU, said that the situation created by Spencer’s visit will not reflect well upon the university, nor will it do anything to ease the tense atmosphere already hanging over campus.
“MSU’s going through a really rough patch right now, with all of the Larry Nassar stuff, and I think Richard Spencer coming to our campus is not going to help the community in any way, shape or form,” Hodges said.
Hodges recalled a similarly-themed white supremacist event that took place in Charlottesville, Va. last summer. A far-right rally, Unite the Right, took place in Aug. 2017 and involved scores of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis marching in protest of the removal of Confederate statues across the United States.
The rally later turned violent, resulting in the death of Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer, after a man intentionally drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter protesters that had gathered.
“I’m really concerned about a repeat of Charlottesville,” Hodges said. “I would never want to see anything like that happen to our community, and I think a lot of people here feel the same way.”
Fred Kester, an MSU employee also in attendance at the discussion, believes that Spencer’s visit to campus will not represent actual free speech.
“I’m disappointed,” Kester said. “I’m disappointed that people confuse free speech with hate speech. He represents an ugly underside that’s been hiding within America for quite a while that has now come out.”
As a landscape services worker employed through the university, Kester reminisced about times where he’s had to pull down posters echoing the rhetoric of Spencer and similar white supremacist beliefs.
“I pull down hate speech posters,” Kester said. “White supremacist-type posters. I’ve seen more in the last year and a half since the election.”
The discussion was opened by four panelists, who would later turn the floor over to residents of the East Lansing area and surrounding communities. Residents debated different tactics in addressing Spencer and his supporters. Some argued that Spencer must be met with strong opposition and violence, if necessary. Others suggested holding protests of a nonviolent nature, while some suggested giving Spencer absolutely no audience at all.
East Lansing City Council member Aaron Stephens attended the discussion and brought up an alternative for those who are concerned about Spencer’s visit, but don’t want to give him a direct audience.
“I’m actually here to talk about an event that a good amount of community partners are going to be hosting at the All Saints Church,” Stephens said. “It’s going to be a celebration of diversity.”
That event will take place on March 5 at the All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing. It’s scheduled to occur from 4 to 7 p.m., about the same time that Spencer will be speaking on campus.
“We’re hoping to have performers, speakers and build a group of sponsors and reach out to every group that we possibly can and just show that this community can - especially with everything happening on the national level and the rhetoric that’s going around - that our community stands for diversity and tolerance and inclusion,” Stephens said. “I’m really excited for the event.”
At the end of the evening, as the discussion drew to a close, the panelists thanked members of the community for their attendance.