EAST LANSING – The appearance at Michigan State University of Minutemen Civilian Defense Corps leader Chris Simcox was marred with protests and arrests.
Simcox spoke at MSU on Thursday, at the invitation of the MSU College Republicans and the MSU chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom. MSU-YAF has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Simcox’s Minutemen has been listed as a Nativist extremist organization by the SPLC.
SPLC is the leading hate-group tracking and monitoring organization in the U.S., and trains thousands of law enforcement officials – including the FBI – around the country on hate groups.
Both MSU-YAF and Minutemen deny there are racial elements to their agenda, and deny they are hate groups or linked to hate groups.
The event, which MSU police officials have been anticipating for weeks, began with a rally for those opposed to Simcox and his message. About 200 people stood outside Conrad Hall at MSU listening to speakers, holding signs and chanting.
Following the rally, many of the participants filed into the hall, passing through metal detectors where MSU police operations staff were doing hand searches of bags and coats.
They took seats in the auditorium and when members of MSU-YAF or the College Republicans attempted to address the crowd the protestors shouted them down with chants. This included disrupting a prayer and shouting over the Pledge of Allegiance which was said to a large American flag duct-taped to one wall of the auditorium.
When Simcox was introduced, the group of protestors jumped to their feet and began chanting and yelling. Simcox attempted to speak, but could not be heard over the din caused by the protestors.
MSU Police Chief Jim Dunlap soon took the microphone. He issued a 30-second warning to the protestors to stop their yelling as they were, according to him, in violation of the University’s policy on “dissent versus disruption.”
The crowd continued chanting for another 10 or so minutes, when Jason VanDyke, a Texas attorney who acted as emcee for the event, stepped up to the microphone. “The first amendment gives y’all the right to use four letter words, well I have two more words for you, soap and work.”
This sent the protestors back into chanting and yelling, with one protestor yelling “Ethnic intimidation is a felony in Michigan!”
After another ten minutes of what police and MSU officials called disruption, the MSU police force swept in and began removing protestors. At least a dozen uniformed officers were present, as well as an unknown number of undercover officers. MSU police did not have a count of police on hand as of Monday afternoon.
Deputy MSU Police Chief Dave Trexler was one of those telling protestors to leave. “We are shutting the building down, at the order of the chief,” he told one protestor. “Everyone is leaving.”
“Including them?” The white female student asked indicating the YAF and College Republican participants segregated at the front of the auditorium and filling three rows which were blocked off by red duct tape.
“Yes, them too,” Trexler told the student.
After clearing about ten rows of protestors, MSU police decided to begin arresting people.
Jose Villigrans was the first protestor to be arrested. He was encouraging students to stay until Simcox and his supporters were removed, when an officer, yelled out “Sir, you are under arrest.”
Villigrans was clearly stunned. “What? What for?” He asked as officers climbed over rows to get to him. Officers never told him why he was being arrested.
As Villigrans was being arrested, Jordon Furrow, a transgender activist at MSU was angrily confronting officers from the department. He was not arrested.
Villigrans was held from behind by two officers, while a third officer held a female civilian in a seat while officers shoved Villigrans on top of her.
Father Peter Doherty, outreach coordinator for the Michigan Peace Team, watched the arrest and he says that while officers were telling Villigrans not to resist, it was clear he was not resisting. He was standing still as officers forcefully twisted his wrists and arms while zip tying him.
“It was excessive force,” Doherty says.
Shortly after the arrest of Villigrans officers arrested Raul Perez. He was leaving the auditorium, the last directive he was given by a police officer, when another officer directed that Perez be arrested. Perez had been aggressively in the face of Simcox supporters throughout the evening, and had also forcefully confronted an officer.
Once the directive to arrest him was given, five officers rushed him, shoving white students who were with him out of the way, and all grabbing him at the same time. An unidentified MSU officer put Perez in a choke hold while other officers zip tied him and restrained his legs.
MSU police spokesperson Sgt. Florene McGothian-Taylor, said the arrest was completely legal.
“We don’t do chokeholds here at the department,” she said Monday. She was not present at the event that night.
Directly after the incident, when Dunlap was asked what law allowed an officer to use a chokehold, he said the arrest was “absolutely”legal. “I don’t have to cite any law for you.” He then walked away and refused further comment.
Both Villigrans and Perez were charged with a felony, resisting arrest and obstructing an officer, as well as violation of an MSU ordinance prohibiting disruption of MSU sponsored events. Felony paper work was submitted to the Ingham County prosecutor’s office Monday morning seeking warrants for Villigrans and Perez.
Three others, all Mexican Americans, were arrested in the incident. They were charged with violating the MSU ordinance prohibiting disruption, a misdemeanor. They will appear in court sometime in the next 10 days.
MSU police were able to get the 200 or so protestors out of the building, and then allowed Simcox to address a crowd about about 65, mostly white, participants from YAF chapters all over the state and the College Republicans.
Protestors were barred from entering the building by a wall of police officers at both main doors to the public building. East Lansing Police Department dispatched seven cars to the scene, along with officers.
At one point, ELPD officers told MSU officers to “go inside” because the MSU officers were “making things worse.”
On Friday, about 50 protestors gathered on the steps of the MSU administration building to lambast police and administration officials alike. They presented several white speakers who said they had been asked by MSU police to leave over 20 times, but refused each time.
“I was asked 25 times to leave my seat,” Kathleen Miller told the assembled press. “I was one of the first to be asked and one of the last to leave. I told an officer, I am resisting your orders why am I not being arrested? He smirked and turned away from me.”
The students demanded that all charges be dropped, those arrested be compensated, that the College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom be disbanded, the appointment of an inquiry into why five Mexican Americans were arrested but no whites, a public apology from the University and the MSU police, and an explanation as to why the MSU Police lied to protestors about the building being shut down.