Auburn University on Friday said a speaking engagement scheduled for next week featuring controversial “alt-right” figure Richard Spencer has been canceled for safety reasons after his planned appearance spurred security concerns across campus.
“In consultation with law enforcement, Auburn canceled the Richard Spencer event scheduled for Tuesday evening based on legitimate concerns and credible evidence that it will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors,” the university said in a brief statement Friday afternoon.
Mr. Spencer, a white nationalist accused of espousing Nazism, insisted afterwards he’ll speak at Auburn notwithstanding the university’s decision to cancel next week’s event.
“They think they have shut this down, but they haven’t,” Mr. Spencer told The Plainsman student publication. “Auburn University is naive and has totally misunderstood who I am if they think that I am going to politely back out of this. I will be there 100 percent.”
Auburn encountered an outcry of criticism after Mr. Spencer announced on Wednesday that he’d be speaking at the Alabama college on April 18, and the institution initially distanced itself from the scheduled event.
“We are a public university and our meeting space is for rent. Auburn supports the constitutional right to free speech, so we don’t make decisions on who can rent based on content. Spencer is paying $700 for the space, plus all costs for security (Auburn Police Division),” Auburn University spokesman Mike Clardy said in a Wednesday email to AL.com.
By Friday, however, authorities and administrators alike agreed the event would trigger significant safety concerns if it went on as planned.
“Based on an assessment of possible civil unrest and criminal activity during a requested event, it is the opinion of the Auburn Police Division that allowing Mr. Richard Spencer to proceed with his appearance […] would pose a real threat to public safety,” law enforcement said in a statement Friday. “We believe Auburn University’s decision to keep students and others safe is appropriate at this juncture.”
“Auburn is fully committed to free speech, and we encourage the campus community to practice that constitutional right consistent with our belief in inclusion and respect. Again, this decision was made to ensure safety of the campus community,” clarified Mr. Clardy, the university spokesman.
On Twitter, Mr. Spencer on Friday described the debate over his appearance as “the civil rights struggle of our time.”
Mr. Spencer has previously been attributed with coining the phrase “alt-right,” a label applied to individuals who embrace far-right ideologies rather than mainstream conservatism. He infamously evoked comparisons to Adolf Hitler last fall when he gave a controversial address at an annual conference held by his white nationalist think tank, the National Policy Institute, earning rebuke afterwards from the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, among others.
“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Mr. Spencer said at the event.
More recently he made headlines when he was assaulted on camera by a masked protesters during President Trump’s inauguration in January.