A federal judge has ordered Auburn University in Alabama to let white supremacist leader Richard Spencer speak on their campus on Tuesday night, days after the university cancelled his booked appearance due to safety concerns.
The ruling was made by U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins just hours before Spencer’s scheduled appearance on campus, which he had pledged to make despite the university’s decision to revoke their permit of his event.
Jewish students and locals are trying not to give Spencer any more attention than necessary, but other groups are planning to respond more directly to his planned appearance. Local protesters and students are hosting events designed to blanket the campus’s public space with peaceful concerts and coffee parties, while off-campus groups including neo-Nazis and anti-fascists have said they’ll be there, as well.
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 “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. Reinforcements are reportedly expected from the county sheriff’s office.
Aiden Pink is the Deputy News Editor for the Forward.