White nationalist Richard Spencer spoke in a crowded auditorium at Auburn University on Tuesday after a federal judge blocked the school from banning his appearance.
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Only a few chairs were empty in the more than 400-seat room as Spencer and other speakers railed against ethnicity and racial diversity, liberals, the media and more. They say they want to promote white pride.
Supporters and opponents engaged in shouting marches beforehand. Auburn police spokesman Capt. Lorenza Dorsey said three people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges.
Spencer had paid to reserve an auditorium on campus before the university cancelled his booking on Friday, stating that the school had “legitimate concerns and credible evidence that [his appearance] will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors.” In response, the so-called “alt-right” leader vowed that the university would “rue the day that they made this total bullshit decision,” pledging in a video uploaded to YouTube that he would appear on campus regardless.
Temple Beth Shalom, the city’s only synagogue, has had “increased police presence both from campus police and local police” since Spencer first announced that he would come to town, Auburn PhD student and synagogue co-president Courtney Ferriter told the Forward.
Local Jewish groups, including Temple Beth Shalom and the 50-member campus Hillel, were advised by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League to totally avoid Spencer rather than protest him, and instead attend one of a series of campus unity events planned in the wake of the local controversy.
“I think people have a perception that being Jewish in the Deep South is a place where you would be afraid to be Jewish,” Ferriter said. “But up until this event, I haven’t really found that to be the case.With this particular event, safety has been our primary concern, and I think both the university and the community have tried to make safety their primary concern as well. And so I feel like the community has been supported in that respect.”
Spencer’s presence is connected to the “Auburn White Student Union,” an unsanctioned and mysterious new campus organization that posted flyers on campus earlier this month containing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, said Ferriter. After the group put up its flyers, “literally the next day, Spencer’s like, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m coming to speak at Auburn,’” Ferriter recounted. “So it’s sort of hard not to see those two things as linked, even if they were two separate, discrete incidents.”
Neither Richard Spencer nor the Auburn White Student Union responded to a request for comment.
The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer urged followers to travel to the city, promising, “it’s definitely going to be a fun scene,” and other “alt-right” activists are already there ahead of Spencer’s appearance.
“The Auburn Police Division is continuing to work with its State and Federal partners to monitor threat assessments associated with this event and will staff as appropriate to mitigate or address any issues or safety concerns,” William Mathews, the city of Auburn’s Assistant Chief of Police, said in a statement.