AUBURN, ALA. (EETV) - Students across campus have been warned by multiple groups and the university about alt-right leader and white supremacist Richard Spencer speaking on campus tonight.
Richard Spencer is a self-proclaimed alt-right white supremacist. He is the president of the National Policy Institute, a lobbying group for white supremacists and the alt-right. He founded AlternativeRight.com and AltRight.com, websites that both support alt-right ideals and values.
Spencer garnered widespread media attention during the 2016 presidential election when he told his supporters at a National Policy Institute conference, "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" to which his supporters responded with the Nazi salute and chants. He was also notably punched in the face during a live interview on the street.
Spencer first announced his plan to visit Auburn last Wednesday via a tweet. He said he would be talking about the alt-right, about Trump and Syria, and taking questions. He said he expected the event to be "wild."
Spencer was not invited by any Auburn organization, instead paying to rent Foy Hall as a private individual. Spencer claimed he paid $700 for the space and more money for extra security for his event.
Initially, Auburn University supported his right to speak on campus, saying, "We strongly deplore his views, which run counter to those of this institution. While his event isn’t affiliated with the university, Auburn supports the constitutional right to free speech. We encourage the campus community to respond to speech they find objectionable with their own views in civil discourse and to do so with respect and inclusion."
Two days later, Auburn canceled the event, "based on legitimate concerns and credible evidence that it will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors."
Spencer immediately backlashed, vowing Auburn would "rue the day" and that he would be coming to campus regardless. He posted a nearly nine-minute video and began using the hashtag, #LETRICHARDSPEAK across social media.
Signs and posters went up across campus this week, both encouraging and discouraging students going to see Spencer.
Also this week, tensions rose across campus as student organized counter-events and protests. The SPLC is hosting a town hall in Lowder focused on unity, Prevail Union coffee shop is hosting "Prevail Together" as an alternative event, and Auburn Unity is hosting a concert on the Student Center green space.
Spencer filed a court case on Monday to force Auburn to allow him to speak as originally scheduled. A judged ruled in his favor this afternoon in an emergency hearing, meaning that the university is required to allow him to speak at Foy Hall.
The university issued a statement following the hearing, saying in part, "Whether it’s offensive rhetoric, offensive flyers around campus, or inappropriate remarks on social media, we will not allow the efforts of individuals or groups to undermine Auburn’s core values of inclusion and diversity and challenge the ideals personified by the Auburn Creed. Auburn University supports the rights and privileges afforded by the First Amendment. However, when the tenets of free speech are overshadowed by threats to the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, we have a responsibility to protect our campus and the men and women who unite our academic community.....This afternoon, a federal judge ruled that Auburn must allow Spencer to speak in the Foy Auditorium tonight. It is now more important than ever that we respond in a way that is peaceful, respectful, and maintains civil discourse."
Campus police have been increased all day as protestors are beginning to gather. Spencer is scheduled to speak at 7:00 at Foy Hall.