Ohio State Will Not Allow Richard Spencer to Speak, Citing Safety Concerns

Spencer and his team are threatening sue

White nationalist Richard Spencer on stage at the University of Florida, August 19, 2017.
White nationalist Richard Spencer on stage at the University of Florida, August 19, 2017. JOE RAEDLE/AFP

Ohio State University has denied a request to rent space for an appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer, citing risks to public safety.

An attorney representing Ohio State said in a letter sent Friday that the university consulted with law enforcement and considered Spencer's appearance at the University of Florida earlier in the week before deciding to turn down the request from Cameron Padgett, a Georgia university student organizing a tour of campuses by Spencer.

"The University values freedom of speech," the letter said. "Nonetheless, the University has determined that it is not presently able to accommodate Mr. Padgett's request to rent space at the university due to substantial risks to public safety, as well as material and substantial disruption."

Earlier Friday, a lawyer for Spencer's associates said he planned to follow through on a threat to file a lawsuit against Ohio State.

"The die is cast," attorney Kyle Bristow said in a Twitter message written in Latin.

The university said last week it couldn't accommodate a Spencer event as requested on Nov. 15 for safety reasons but would decide by the end of this week whether viable alternatives existed. Bristow said he'd sue the university if it didn't decide by 5 p.m. Friday to allow Spencer to speak.

The University of Cincinnati was faced with a similar deadline but decided last week to allow Spencer to hold an event there. Both universities were contacted last month about allowing Spencer to visit but delayed making final decisions until Bristow threatened to sue.

The Ohio universities are the latest among a string of universities targeted for appearances by Spencer since he participated in an August white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to deadly violence. The Charlottesville rally left universities across the U.S. struggling to ensure campus safety in the face of recruiting efforts by white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups while balancing concerns over freedom of speech.

Spencer spoke Thursday at the University of Florida, where counter demonstrators greatly outnumbered his supporters, drowned out his speech with anti-Nazi chants and booed him off the stage under the watchful eye of police officers in riot gear.

The same day, another lawyer filed a federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania State University for denying a request to rent space for Spencer to speak, claiming free speech violations. Penn State's president said when turning down the request that the university supports free speech but such an event could result in "disruption and violence."

Spencer said he considered his Florida speech a success even though he was booed away and "wasn't able to talk to people."