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White nationalist threatens lawsuit against Ohio colleges

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2016

    White nationalist Richard Spencer poses between interviews in College Station, Texas.

CLEVELAND >> White nationalist Richard Spencer has threatened to sue two Ohio universities if they refuse to rent campus spaces for him to speak.

Spencer’s associates contacted the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University this month asking to rent theaters and auditoriums for Spencer to speak. An attorney representing Spencer’s event organizers said today that he’ll challenge the schools in court if they don’t approve the requests.

“Either they host them, or they get sued,” said Kyle Bristow, the founder of a law firm dedicated to legal advocacy on behalf of the so-called “alt-right,” a loose collection of white nationalists, white supremacists and anti-immigration populists.

Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student, contacted the University of Cincinnati on Tuesday asking to rent an auditorium that could accommodate 800 people for Spencer to speak there in late October. University spokesman Greg Vehr said today the school is reviewing the request and “assessing various safety and logistical considerations.”

The school’s Republican club issued a statement saying it has “zero interest” in hosting Spencer and do not condone his “hateful rhetoric.”

Padgett asked Ohio State University to host Spencer earlier this month after a previous request was denied. A university spokesman said the school is considering whether Spencer can be “accommodated without substantial risk to the safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests.”

Bristow said Padgett has discussed with Ohio State administrators about arranging a time for Spencer to speak there in December.

Spencer, a leading figure in the white nationalist movement, has advocated for an “ethno-state” that would be a “safe space” for white people. He helped organize a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August that resulted in violence and the death of a woman protesting against the white nationalist agenda.

The Charlottesville rally left universities across the U.S. bracing for more clashes between right-wing extremists and those who oppose them. It also left schools struggling to ensure campus safety in the face of recruiting efforts by white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups while balancing concerns over freedom of speech.

The Ohio universities are the latest in a series of schools targeted by Spencer in the wake of Charlottesville.

Spencer and his associates in April were denied a request to speak at Auburn University, prompting a federal lawsuit against school. A judge ruled against Auburn, which then allowed Spencer to speak as planned.

Several hundred people attended the event. Three people were arrested outside the building during clashes between Spencer’s supporters and his opponents.

In August, event organizers threatened to sue the University of Florida after the school denied Spencer’s request to hold an event. The school reversed course. Spencer is scheduled to speak there Oct. 19.

Bristow sued Michigan State University earlier this month after it refused to rent him space.

Richard Cohen, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said suing is a tactic to draw attention from white nationalist beliefs by framing the debate about free speech instead.

“It allows them to become First Amendment martyrs,” Cohen said. “It’s dangerous.”

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