At a public speech given by alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer, the antagonism between anti-fascist activists and neo-Nazi organizations resulted in physical violence.
Hundreds marched towards the Michigan State University venue chanting "Nazis go home!" to counter the message of Spencer, a white supremacist figurehead most famous for going viral after being physically assaulted on President Trump's inauguration day.
White nationalists marching toward the Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education, where the event was scheduled to take place, were blocked by protestors, according to The Washington Post. As shouting between the rival factions escalated, punches were thrown. Police quickly began arresting people.
But the situation escalated again as more attendees showed up to the speech, which at that point had been delayed. Police protected the white nationalists and helped them to enter the building.
Capt. Doug Monette, a spokesman for the MSU police department, said that over two dozen were arrested during the skirmishes. Some of those arrested face felony charges.
Richard Spencer bemoaned the violence of the clash.
“What happened outside was really worrisome and heinous,” Spencer said, according to The Washington Post. “That was an attempt to use violence to prevent people from attending a speech that was peaceful.”
Spencer said that 150 tickets to the event had been sold but not that many ended up making it.
“In terms of suppressing attendance, they really achieved that," Spencer said.
Protestors, including Michigan State sophomore Samantha Turner, hoped to offer a message to counter Spencer's overtly hateful message.
“I hope to send the message that we’re just not going to do whatever they want and step all over us. I feel like showing a presence out here today lets them know that we do indeed care.”
Spencer has previously advocated for "peaceful ethnic cleansing" and has been seen using a Nazi salute at pro-Trump rallies, according to The Atlantic. His marches were at the center of a a series of violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia which resulted in the death of protestor Heather Heyer.
MSU had attempted to shut down Spencer's event citing safety concerns. A lawsuit brought by one of Spencer's supporters forced the school to allow the event. The school purposefully planned the event while students were on spring break.
The university explained their decision in a public statement.
“Michigan State is wholly dedicated to freedom of speech, not just as a public institution, but as an institution of higher education, ” said the January statement, according to The Washington Post. “Here, ideas — not people — are meant to clash and to be evaluated based on their merits.”
Spencer commented on the difficulties surrounding his speaking events.
“The obstacles just keep rising — it’s very difficult to continue,” Spencer said, according to The Washington Post. “But we have to ... as opposition mounts, we know that we’re making more and more of an impact.”
Protest organizers, like MSU grad student Josh Lown, continued to denounce Spencer's overt racism.
“[We want to] make Richard Spencer and his motley crew know that they’re not welcome here," said Lown. "We’re a very loving and diverse community, and we don’t want this speech to turn into normalcy.”
MSU's interim president, John Engler, also offered a statement on the matter, distancing himself from Spencer's message.
“Nobody affiliated with Michigan State invited this small, hateful group, and I doubt they’ll find support. The remarkable accomplishments of our diverse community of scholars expose the fraudulence of their racist rhetoric every day," said Engler. "But they come here hoping to gain energy by provoking reaction to their taunts. If we take the bait — if we return their hate — it only supports the preposterous claims to victimhood that sustain their ideology. They court headlines. They crave confrontation, because without it, their message of hate falls on deaf ears.”
Engler asked that protestors simply ignore the event.
[Photo: Getty Images]