CINCINNATI -- The University of Cincinnati will allow white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to speak uninvited on campus, President Neville G. Pinto announced Friday afternoon.
That acquiescence arrived after hours of closed-door debate among university trustees and threats from Spencer's legal team , who issued an ultimatum: The university would agree by Friday to let Spencer speak or it would face a First Amendment suit from his lawyer, fellow white supremacist Kyle Bristow.
"As a state institution, we must adhere to the foundational rights embedded in the First Amendment," Pinto wrote Friday afternoon. "That includes protecting speech of all types at all times -- even, perhaps especially, words that are blatantly hateful or offensive. After all, we cannot silence those with whom we disagree without opening the doors to our own voices being silenced by those who disagree with us."
Spencer, who has long attempted to gild the ideologies of white nationalism and white supremacy with an intellectual veneer, helped organize and headline the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where anti-racist protester Heather Heyer was killed. He has advocated repeatedly for the establishment of a white, patriarchal ethno-state in the United States of America, arguing that the country "belongs to white men."
Despite his frequent reliance on First Amendment protections to ensure speaking engagements at campuses such as Cincinnati and the University of Florida, he has also advanced the idea that the foundational document of his ideal state would not adhere to the United States Constitution but would instead begin, " We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created unequal ."
He has also been recorded leading and performing Nazi salutes.
A video shows Milo Yiannopoulos singing “America the Beautiful” at a bar in 2016 as a crowd, including Richard Spencer, makes Nazi salutes pic.twitter.com/UjLXTvlDnp
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) October 5, 2017
In his Friday afternoon letter, Pinto denounced Spencer's ideology and promised to prioritize student safety in preparation for the event, the date of which had not been finalized. He closed his message with a request that students do two things in response to the news.
"First, reflect on what makes our learning community so extraordinary. For me, that competitive edge is our diversity -- of backgrounds and beliefs, of identities and ideas, of perspectives and pathways. And no doubt it is the power and promise of that diversity to change the world for the better that has the hate-filled so unsettled.
Here I want to extend a special message of support to members of our community who feel targeted directly by Spencer. His hate only makes our love for you stronger. You are the reason this university is a first-class destination for the best and the brightest. Your difference is our strength, our pride, our purpose.
Second, make it a priority to recognize the humanity around us. Let's seize this opportunity to live into action the values of inclusion, respect, responsibility and dignity that we all hold dear. Indeed, now is the time to make our Bearcat bond stronger than ever. "
Pinto also confirmed that no campus group, program or faculty had invited Spencer to speak. Instead, the request came unsolicited from Cameron Padgett, a 23-year-old Georgia State University student who has dedicated himself to booking speaking engagements for Spencer at universities he does not attend.
On UC's campus Friday night, no student to whom WCPO spoke said they supported the speaker -- although some supported the university's mindfulness of the First Amendment.
"I feel that he has no support here. I just feel this is a publicity stunt to try to rile someone up," student Tye Cobb said. "I would say I hope you have a change of heart at sometime, but until then we'll keep our same beliefs and I just hope you'll have a change of heart."
John D'Alessandro, a member of Cincinnati Socialist Students, said he hoped Spencer's appearance would provide an opportunity for students like himself to show unity through peaceful, organized protest like the kind that greeted the Westboro Baptist Church when they visited in September.
"I think if they were to prevent Richard Spencer from speaking on campus that would set dangerous precedent for progressive forces," he said. "(But) I'm hoping for very disciplined, organized resistance that will make sure he doesn't come back."
Dakotah Tyler, another UC student, said Spencer's visit represented a crystallization of racial issues that have been increasingly prominent in the United States' political landscape in recent years. It's everywhere, he said, so it's better to discuss it than ignore it.
"It's something that everybody needs to face and we need to deal with and talk about," he said.
The Ohio State University rejected a request for Spencer to appear on its campus in September, claiming he presented a risk to student safety in the wake of Charlottesville. However, Friday evening, OSU general counsel Christopher Culley wrote to Padgett to suggest the university was exploring "viable alternatives" to Spencer appearing on campus.
Bristow Friday night called Neville's decision a "crushing victory." According to a news release from his office: "If OSU does not capitulate, Bristow is willing, eager and able to sue it in federal court."