On Monday, white nationalist Richard Spencer arrived at MSU for a highly-controversial speaking engagement that later ended up drawing a multitude of protests.
The scene on the southern edge of campus was tense in the early afternoon hours, as protesters and "antifa" members met for the purpose of rallying against Spencer and his supporters.
Though Spencer wasn’t scheduled to speak until 4:30 p.m., counter-protesters began to accumulate in the Lot 89 parking lot on campus around noon. The lot is just a short distance away from the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education, where Spencer’s event was held.
MSU Police Capt. Doug Monette and dozens of law enforcement officers were on hand to monitor the event and the crowd it drew. In addition to MSU police, other members of law enforcement with the Michigan State Police, East Lansing Police, Ingham County Sheriff and Clinton County Sheriff were on scene.
Monette said his number one concern was maintaining safety on campus.
“That’s why we’re here,” Monette said. “Safety and security is paramount in our responsibility here on campus.”
Spencer’s visit occurred during MSU’s spring break, which meant a majority of university students were off campus at the time the protest took place.
Economics senior Rahul Pillai attended the protest and said the university’s decision to hold the event during spring break had an impact on the number of attendees.
“If it was during the school year, we would’ve had, like, probably a thousand people,” Pillai said.
Pillai said he was with a small group of friends, all of whom shared the same sentiment toward Spencer’s ideologies.
“I’m just not a big fan of MSU paying his security fees of what, half a million dollars, and then letting him speak,” Pillai said. “I mean, the Pavilion’s pretty far from the heart of campus, but it’s still on campus. So those two things just kind of really got on my nerves a bit. So I just kind of wanted to come out here and do whatever I could to stop him from speaking.”
Spencer is the leader of the National Policy Institute, or NPI. According to the organization’s website, the NPI is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world.”
Spencer is also known for coining the term “alt-right,” a movement associated with white supremacist ideology. As a result, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, classifies the NPI as a hate group.
To some protesters, Spencer’s views are reminiscent of fascism. When asked about what made her decide to join the protest, special education senior Ivy Herron was stark.
“Nazis, and the need to protest against their ideals," Herron said. "Just bringing awareness to the fact that people like this still exist in 2018, and we need to eradicate these beliefs.”
Herron said if she ever had the chance to meet Spencer face-to-face, she’d remind him of a time in January 2017 when he was struck in the face by a protester during a television interview.
“I would remind him that everybody saw him cry on TV when he got punched,” Herron said. “And then also that white supremacy sucks and nobody wants him here.”
Herron’s friend and fellow student, Olivia Franklin, held up a sign at the protest which said “Feminazis against actual Nazis.”
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“I wrote that because a lot of people use the word ‘feminazi’ in a derogatory sense, because they think that feminism is, in the best way possible, male genocide, and that females want more rights (than them), which is completely false,” Franklin said. “So it was just kind of a joke and a play on words.”
Franklin said Spencer’s ability to speak on MSU’s campus, along with the views he has established for himself, would be met with resistance.
“I heard about Richard Spencer being able to speak on MSU’s campus, and I understand that MSU kind of had their hands bound with this decision,” Franklin said. “But I wanted to come out here to show that just because the laws are protecting you at least a little bit, that we as a people — as a community — are going to fight back against your fascist ideologies and your racist and sexist ideologies and they are not welcome here."
An MSU graduate student who declined to give his name said Spencer’s event being held in East Lansing concerned him, not for himself, but for his fellow community members.
“I’m concerned for the safety of my East Lansing community and especially that of Michigan State, where we’re now a university in turmoil, trying to really pursue a safer, inclusive, more loving, diverse campus here," he said.
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