Protests over a speech by Richard Spencer at Michigan State University turned violent Monday night as dozens of supporters clashed with hundreds of anti-racist protesters. Spencer is the head of the white supremacy group the National Policy Institute.
Twenty-five people were arrested during melees outside the MSU Pavilion, Capt. Doug Monette of the MSU Police Department said. As of Tuesday morning, he was uncertain of the ages of those charged, or where they were from. Charges, he said, ranged from misdemeanors to felonies and included weapons charges as well as obstructing police.
The violent conflicts were exactly what MSU officials had hoped to avoid when they refused to rent university properties for Spencer in August.
“After consultation with law enforcement officials, Michigan State University has decided to deny the National Policy Institute’s request to rent space on campus to accommodate a speaker,” MSU said in a statement issued at the time. “This decision was made due to significant concerns about public safety in the wake of the tragic violence in Charlottesville last weekend. While we remain firm in our commitment to freedom of expression, our first obligation is to the safety and security of our students and our community.”
The request to rent a space for Spencer to speak was made by Cameron Padgett, a self-described Identitarian activist. It was made days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville turned violent. One protester against white nationalism was killed when she was struck by a car driven by a supporter of Spencer’s. The clashes between white nationalists and protesters in Charlottesville have been widely attributed by media, nationalists, protesters and some law enforcement to allowing the opposing groups to come into close contact with each other.
MSU cited both that instance and other examples of violence at events featuring Spencer when it originally announced it would deny the request from Padgett.
Padgett sued in federal court arguing the university was violating the First Amendment. Late last year MSU settled with Padgett, agreeing to pay legal costs for his attorney Kyle Bristow. Bristow himself is an MSU graduate and white nationalist leader. The university also allowed Spencer to rent a facility at MSU to speak during spring break. Below is an overview of the protests on March 5.
Approximately 600 of Spencer’s opponents gathered at a commuter lot near the MSU Pavilion, and at least 150 law enforcement officers from 10 different agencies were on hand. Many of them greeted protesters in full riot gear.
Police, under the command of MSU Police Department, created a security checkpoint at the far end of the lot where anti-Spencer protesters were gathered. This checkpoint was the only access point to the event which forced speech-goers to confront an angry mob of people. Many of the protesters were dressed in black, wore masks or bandanas and screamed: “Nazis go home!”
Few made it past this crowd, and at least two had to be protected by officers on bikes when the crowd cornered them.
Protesters took over Farm Lane, with some laying down in front of an armored vehicle. Two laid down behind the vehicle as well and were subsequently arrested. Officers from the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department Mounted Division subsequently moved in, and once the vehicle had been cleared, police receded.
With a clear line of entry, a group of roughly 35 white nationalists, led by Matthew Heimbach from the Traditionalist Workers Party and Gregory Conte of the National Policy Institute, marched in formation from the commuter lot down Farm Lane. Police made no moves to prevent them from coming into contact with protesters.
Protesters and white nationalists violently clashed, punching each other and drawing blood in some instances.
When officers moved in again they managed to make some arrests and separate the two groups briefly. With pushback on both sides, more fighting broke out and ultimately the protestors drove the nationalists back to the commuter lot where they first arrived.
At this parking lot, protestors and nationalists clashed once again.
A Lull in the Conflict
As the melees outside the Pavilion began to slow down, the police created teams to escort individual and small groups of ticket-holders to the security checkpoint. Spencer took the stage inside, telling the gathering of about 30 that the protests outside had resulted in broken bones and ruptured ear drums.
Monette of the MSU Police Department was unable to confirm there were any serious injuries Monday night, but noted he was “not aware of any ambulances being used” during the protests or speech.
Alt-Right News blog touted the event as a “near perfect balance of shitstormery and optics.”
Meanwhile, on the Stop Spencer at Michigan State University Facebook page, organizers called the event a success for their side.
“Because of our courage today,” the group wrote, “many fascists were unable to attend Richard Spencer’s talk.”