On March 5, alt-right agitator Richard Spencer is coming to the Michigan State campus to speak on his white nationalist politics. I will be one of a thousand people in the streets to make sure the event is cancelled. Let me explain.
I first encountered Spencer in 2017 when The Atlantic released video of a man in a three-piece suit shouting, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail Victory.” The audience in the room cheered, stood up and some of them threw the straight-arm Nazi salute. I was terrified — why are there Americans advocating Nazi politics?
Later, news began spreading about the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, planned for August 12, 2017. The night prior, videos surfaced of white men carrying tiki torches on the campus of the University of Virginia chanting slogans inspired by Nazi propaganda. The day of, brawls broke out in the streets, a police helicopter crashed, and a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd killing one and injuring others. Richard Spencer was an integral organizer in the events that shocked a nation and took a young woman’s life. The next day, I attended a vigil on the steps of the Capitol in Lansing and was determined to do all I could to resist any Neo-Nazi presence in my community.
Most recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a study claiming in the last four years “over 100 people [have been] killed or injured by alleged perpetrators influenced by the so-called ‘alt-right.’” The study cites Richard Spencer for coining the term “alt-right” in 2008, but let’s cut through the euphemisms and just call them what they are: white nationalist Neo-Nazis. This country has a past of white nationalist terrorism from the thousands of lynchings following the Civil War to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 to Dylann Roof killing nine worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.
The connection is clear: white nationalist ideologies are historically and inherently violent. The election of Trump drew these trolls out of the digital space, and now they are desperately trying to gain a foothold in mainstream politics. The protest at the MSU pavilion is not an attack on free speech but an expression of community self-defense against the spread of a political ideology seeped in hatred and violence.
White supremacy does not go away by ignoring it. It never has and never will. White supremacy is defeated when communities come together to confront Neo-Nazis wherever they try to rally. The country will be watching. The Neo-Nazis will be watching. This is our chance to tell Richard Spencer and his white nationalist sympathizers that their hate is not welcome here.
Brandon Lee is an MSU student studying secondary education.