Clashes Erupt as White Supremacist Richard Spencer Speaks at Michigan
The white supremacist Richard Spencer spoke at Michigan State University after defeating a campaign against his appearance. The Rev. David Alexander Bullock of Change Agent Consortium says that Spencer shouldn’t be given a platform to recruit for a violent, racist movement
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The white supremacist, Richard Spencer spoke at Michigan State University on Monday after defeating a vocal campaign against his appearance. The school denied Spencer a permit last year after a community outcry, but Spencer’s group filed suit, leading to a court order for the two sides to enter mediation. The result was a deal in which Spencer spoke today while the school was on spring break. Protests were held outside the event.
SPEAKER: They’re fascists and they are not welcome here on Michigan State’s campus. We don’t believe they should have been allowed to speak. I just want to say, too, this is just a part of what’s going on in the country.
SPEAKER: We have a whole crew here coming out because we know about safety concerns and we’re here to nonviolently protest and stand up against something we think is absolutely wrong.
AARON MATÉ: Joining me is the Reverend David Alexander Bullock, national spokesperson for Change Agent Consortium, which organized against Spencer’s appearance. Welcome, Reverend Bullock. Talk about what happened today and when you launched this campaign against Spencer’s appearance.
DAVID BULLOCK: Well, look, thank you so much. It’s so good to be on The Real News. We’ve been organizing for at least three weeks now against Richard Spencer coming to Michigan State University and have been a part of what a number of different groups and folks who share a common message, namely that white power/white supremacy is bad for Michigan State, bad for Michigan, bad for America. And that Richard Spencer should not be given a platform to speak on the university. We met with administrators from Michigan State University on Friday in a meeting that lasted for about an hour, started rallying on Friday and led into the weekend. Obviously, there were a larger gathering today, on Monday in the wake of Spencer’s speech.
But I think right now what we’re seeing is the tyranny of the minority. Students, faculty, folks who live in East Lansing, people from Greater Michigan and around the nation, chime in. The university made the right decision initially but did not have a strong enough political will to say no to hate and actually platformed hate today, and I think something’s wrong with that.
AARON MATÉ: All right. Well, so this gets to the issue of freedom of speech versus hate speech that has been going on for a long time. And the argument that Spencer will make and also staunch advocates of free speech will make is that if he’s not directly advocating violence, if he’s not directing violence, then he has the right to say what he wants to say. What’s your response to that?
DAVID BULLOCK: White supremacy equals violence. White power equals violence. An America where there aren’t any blacks, an America where there aren’t any gays, an America where there aren’t anyone except white people. An America where white people are seen as collateral damage because of the Civil Rights Movement because of diversity, because of inclusion. I mean, that’s not just hate speech, that’s just not ethnic intimidation, but that breeds violence. How do you create an America that’s only for white people without violence?
I don’t think that we need to split hairs here. The philosophical debate about what do we do when rights are in conflict is a great debate to have in a classroom, but on the ground when rights are in conflict, right should help us understand which right we should protect. I don’t think we should be talking about protecting the right of a white supremacist to continue to recruit on college campuses for young minds that would join a movement that would ultimately not just be talk, but actually is tied to a political agenda now and tied to a vision for America, and indeed the world in the future. We have to take this stuff seriously.
AARON MATÉ: Right. So, when you brought these concerns to the school administration, what kind of response did you get?
DAVID BULLOCK: Well, we got nuance responses, response like, “Well, that’s a private citizen. I agree with you, but as an administrator, I don’t.” We also got a response that said something about their rental policy being a policy that allows for buildings to be made available for rental, at least some of those buildings on campus, to anybody as long as they paid a fee. As long as there isn’t a threat of safety concerns.
And so, I believe Michigan State University, much like they have done in recent history, just got it wrong here. Listen to the students. Listen to the faculty. Listen to the East Lansing community. Listen to folks from Detroit that send their kids to Michigan State. Listen to blacks and browns and others who don’t want the campus polarized and don’t want white students inspired to carry out a vision of ethnic cleansing and Armageddon. Michigan State got it wrong, and I think being worried about, say, a lawsuit, when the university obviously has lawyers and obviously has settlement money, really just shows that there is a high level of cowardice when you’re dealing with the board of trustees and the current president.
AARON MATÉ: And can you talk about the broader context in which this takes place in Michigan? I remember last year when there was these protests at NFL football games with players taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. You were leading protests against the director of the Michigan State Police, who called the NFL players who took part in this “anti-American degenerates.”
DAVID BULLOCK: That’s right, that’s right. We led a protest and met with Colonel Etue, as well, when she called African American players who were standing against police brutality degenerates while she presided over a Michigan state police force where an officer, Officer Bessner, killed Damon Grimes, a teenager, African American, on the eastside of Detroit. And so, while her office was complicit in the things that were being protested by the NFL players, she calls them “degenerates” and “un-American.” This is Michigan, where hate crimes are on the rise 29%. This is Michigan, where emergency management has disenfranchised over 75% of the elected African American officials in the exercise of their right to be a part of representative government.
I mean, this is Michigan, where the Flint Water Crisis happened. This is Michigan, where the EAA was created by Governor Rick Snyder to experiment on black and brown poor children, and implemented a curriculum that had not even been finalized. This is Michigan, where in Detroit you have 30 to 40,000 water shutoffs.
This is Michigan, where the racial reality is this: The Koch brothers’ republican, conservative dominated political machine is rewriting Michigan in the image of Mississippi of the 1960s. And so, Richard Spencer coming to Michigan State is not just a young white kid blowing off steam. This is a part of a national movement that is trying to take America back, not make America great.
AARON MATÉ: So, speaking of movements, as we wrap Reverend, did the movement that rose up in response to Spencer’s appearance, has that created momentum for the next fight, for the broader fight against racial injustice in your state?
DAVID BULLOCK: Well, I think this movement, this white power movement, as we discover now, even as we’re doing this interview, that there had been violent clashes in the wake of Spencer coming to Michigan State. This is what we predicted. We predicted violence. This is what we’re saying, white supremacy is violent. It is exclusive, it is destructive. It doesn’t need a platform.
We are at a crossroads where our progressive movement, our movement for inclusion, our movement for a democracy that works for everybody, our movement to get money out of politics, our movement for a level playing field, is running head up against another movement. A movement that is well-funded, well-organized, a movement that says white men are collateral damage, white people are the supreme ethnic minority that should be running America, that the rest of us are just standing in a country that we don’t own, that is not ours.
…I think Donald Trump has become the hood ornament on the car that is white power that is trying to take us in the wrong direction. It is time for MSU and for folks across the nation at universities and in municipalities to wake up. We must lock arms and fight back now. We don’t want to wait and make the same mistake folks made when white nationalism sprouted in Germany and then tried to shape the world in its image.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Reverend David Alexander Bullock, national spokesperson for Change Agent Consortium, which organized against Richard Spencer’s appearance at Michigan State University. Reverend, thank you.
DAVID BULLOCK: Thank you so much.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.