EAST LANSING, Michigan – Clashes took place and authorities They made multiple arrests when white supremacists clashed with hundreds of antifascist protesters outside the Michigan State University building where white supremacist Richard Spencer was scheduled to speak on Monday.
MSU students are on spring break, but many still appeared, as did members of antifa and other anti-fascist groups. All began to demonstrate against the event hours before it began, as a large contingent of policemen observed.
When the largest group of white nationalists – led by the members of the Traditionalist Party of Labor Matthew Heimbach and Johan Carollo – tried to enter the building, the protesters beat them repeatedly.
Carollo, sporting a new bruise on his cheek, he shouted "Traitors of the race!" To the protesters before leaving. Neither he nor his crew seemed to come in to hear Spencer speak. Gregory Conte, director of operations for white nationalism, thanks to the National Policy Institute, was arrested during hand-to-hand combat for unclear reasons.
More clashes erupted when other white nationalists arrived. The police rushed to establish formations to prevent the two sides from fighting, often with little success, and successfully escorted some of the white nationalists inside the building.
HuffPost counted at least 12 arrests. At one point, the police charged through a crowd of protesters, using their bicycles as battering rams.
According to multiple antifascist protesters, someone threw horse stools to a white supremacist, hitting him. HuffPost could not independently verify that this happened.
Aiden, a 24-year-old from Lansing who refused to give his last name for fear of reprisals, protested as a member of the anti-fascist group Solidarity and Defense. He said it was important to confront Spencer and his white nationalist cohorts.
"I think we've seen throughout history that ignoring them never worked," he said. "The only way to destroy the genocidal exterminating fascist movements is to physically confront them and close their organization and recruitment"
J.D. Took, 27, was standing outside the pavilion with a sign that said "Defending genocide is not freedom of expression." Took, who lives in Lansing, went to show his support for minorities, immigrants and LGBTQ people.
Spencer "made a race to make the genocide sound reasonable, and we are here to show him that it is not, that he is a threat to all of us," Took said.
Spencer is president of the National Policy Institute, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. NPI, despite its strident invocations of freedom of expression, would not issue press credentials for HuffPost and a host of other local and national media seeking to inform Spencer's speech from within the public university.
HuffPost managed to get in anyway. There, Spencer was in a largely empty auditorium, often used for cattle auctions, speaking only with 30 or 40 people, despite claiming he had issued 150 tickets for the event. He blamed the disturbances abroad for the miserable assistance. A live camera focused strongly on him, without detouring through the small crowd.
He continued to ramble on about the desire to create ethno-states and people who "immigrate" back to their homelands. This (undoubtedly violent) vision of ethnic cleansing would involve creating an ethnostate for "African-Americans who can not simply return to Africa," Spencer said.
After speaking for more than an hour, he and the other white white nationalists left the auditorium.
In an adjoining room, about a dozen protesters arrested during the chaos of the day were sitting on folding chairs, handcuffed and guarded by police. They seemed in a good mood, singing at one point "Solidarity Forever" and then "Part of Your World" from Disney's "The Little Mermaid."
Spencer's event will probably cost Michigan State University, and by extension, taxpayers, a penny. The university is legally at the service of security costs. "At this moment everything is fluid, so I do not think there is a final cost available yet," said Police Cpt. Doug Monette told MLive.com.
The University of Florida spent half a million dollars – roughly equal to the annual enrollment of 78 undergraduates – to accommodate Spencer and his fellow students at the school in October, all for Spencer to launch a stroke attack. Nerves on the stage when protesters in the audience interrupted his speech. (Afterward, three Spencer fans were arrested for firing a gun at protesters)
Spencer – who is most famous for being punched on the Day of Inauguration- has received help to open the way on university campuses across the country to recruit young members for the so-called "alt-right". "
Since the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, which ended with an alleged neo-Nazi driving a car against a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32 years old and wounding one more score – Spencer's friend Cameron Padgett and white nationalist lawyer Kyle Bristow have been busy demanding or threatening to sue state universities have refused to allow Spencer to speak.
Last year, Michigan State University rejected Padgett's request to reserve a room for Spencer at the school, citing safety concerns after the violence in Charlottesville. Padgett and Bristow sued, and in January, the school calmed down: Spencer would speak and the university would be aware of the security costs that the event would incur.
Padgett has also sued or threatened to sue the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University and Kent State University for the apparent refusal of those schools for Spencer to speak on campus.
But Bristow, the white nationalist lawyer, launched this planned tour of the university in disarray last weekend, when he announced that he was moving away from politics and resigning his position in the Foundation for the Market of Ideas, or FMI. Bristow had founded the IMF and described it as a kind of American Union of Civil Liberties of the extreme right.
He had also planned an IMF conference for Sunday night in Detroit, which was scheduled to present Spencer and other white nationalist figures. But someone leaked the conference itinerary to the Detroit Metro Times on Sunday morning. The place, the Carpathia Club in the suburb of Sterling Heights, canceled after finding out who was coming and consulting the police.
Meanwhile, anti-fascist protesters gathered in front of a Holiday Inn Express in the Detroit area where they had heard that the white nationalists were staying. (A white nationalist organizer who asked not to be identified confirmed to HuffPost that, in fact, they were staying at the hotel)
A 26-year-old boy who uses the name Ouija, identified as an antifa member of South Bend, Indiana, said he and a group of other anti-fascist activists traveled to Michigan for " shows the community and people of color in this community that have people watching them and who have people who care."
" The racists always exist, but now they are more comfortable, they are now coming out of the woodwork, and we are here to return to put them in the carpentry shop and destroy them with every opportunity we have, "said Ouija.
Twice, people shouting "Heil Hitler" and "Sieg Heil" passed by, interrupting the rally outside the hotel. A man inside another vehicle simply shouted: "Trump!"
The white supremacists finally found a new location for their conference on Sunday night: Ann Arbor, an hour away.
But first, they found themselves in a parking lot outside of a sports store, where they coordinated the trip to this new secret location.
A young white man, aged 23, who asked not to be identified, told HuffPost that it was the first time he had attended a white nationalist event. He had been "redpilled" – alt-right lingo to awaken to the teachings of white supremacy – about three years ago, he said. He added that he had had problems with drugs and alcohol for a while, but that he found some consolation in racism and alt-right fascism.
"Basically, it makes me feel part of something bigger than me and it does not make me feel so alone and so … atomized".
"My future has no consideration in politics or basically in everything that is seen in the movies and the academy, and I really want to see that change, and these are the only people who hear that message, "he said.
The time has come for white nationalists to move. They got into their cars and drove to their secret location.
A few hours later, antifascist activists claimed to have found them in a private residence in Ann Arbor.
The antifascist Stop Spencer coalition at the MSU issued a statement claiming victory. "They can not run," the group said of white supremacists. "They can not hide"
Andy Campbell contributed the reports.
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