A federal judge has ordered Auburn University to let white nationalist Richard Spencer speak at the college Tuesday evening as previously planned, despite administrators predicting his presence will trigger potentially violent protests.
U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins granted a restraining order Tuesday afternoon barring Auburn University from “cancelling, prohibiting or preventing listeners from attending” a speaking engagement at 7 p.m. local time featuring Mr. Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think-tank.
“I’m enthusiastic,” Mr. Spencer told The Washington Times on Tuesday after the judge’s decision was announced but before his scheduled speaking engagement on at Auburn. “The ruling was correct according to the law and set an important precedent.”
“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 Friday.
“While Mr. Spencer’s beliefs and message are controversial, Auburn presented no evidence that Mr. Spencer advocates violence,” the judge wrote in Tuesday’s ruling agreeing to grant an injunction against the college.
“Auburn did not produce evidence that Mr. Spencer’s speech is likely to incite or produce imminent lawless action,” the judge added. “The court finds that Auburn University cancelled the speech based on its belief that listeners and protest groups opposed to Mr. Spencer’s ideology would react to the content of his speech by engaging in protests that could cause violence or property damage.”
The ruling states that Auburn must allow Mr. Spencer to speak Tuesday evening as previously planned, and specifies that security personnel “may not cut off the free speech of Mr. Spencer or other persons except as a last resort to ensure security or to prevent violence or property damage.”
“The university will abide by the judge’s decision that Spencer be allowed to speak on campus tonight,” Auburn spokesman Mike Clardy told The Plainsman, a campus publication, following Tuesday’s court ruling. “We continue working closely with law enforcement officials to ensure the safety of the campus community.”
Mr. Spencer has been widely credited with coining the term “alt-right,” an ideology affiliated with far-right conservatism. He’s also been accused of espousing hate speech and Nazism, and has been condemned by multiple civil rights watchdogs, among other groups.
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