UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from MSU President Lou Anna Simon, as well as to add additional information related to white nationalists at Michigan State University.
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 16 — The National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank run by Richard Spencer, is seeking to rent facilities at Michigan State University in mid-September.
“I can tell you that MSU has been contacted by the National Policy Institute seeking to rent space on campus,” said Jason Cody, a spokesman for the university. “No decision has been made. We are reviewing the request closely particularly in light of the violence in Virginia this weekend.”
MSU President Lou Anna Simon released a statement confirming the rental request and acknowledging the role the university has in free speech.
“Michigan State takes seriously its obligations to accommodate a broad range of speech. As our record shows, this university does not determine who can access public spaces based on what they think or say,” she said. “Allowing access to public spaces would in no way constitute endorsement of messages that might be delivered there. NPI and similar groups’ events staged at American campuses are intended to provoke reaction that might seem to justify organizers’ racist and divisive messages, which we categorically reject.”
Simon’s statement also claimed the university was unaware of any MSU student group or individual tied to the think tank. But Kyle Bristow, who graduated from MSU in 2009 with a degree in international relations from James Madison College, was a featured speaker at the 2016 Alt-Right Conference in Detroit. That event was co-hosted by NPI and Bristow’s newly minted Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas and the white nationalist group Identity Europa.
According to the website of the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, Richard Spencer is among the group’s 10 board members. The organization’s mission claims to be about protecting Constitutional rights, however, among the other board members are people like California attorney William Daniel Johnson, who in 1985 proposed a Constitutional amendment to revoke the citizenship of every non-white person in the U.S; Jason Robb, son of the national director of the KKK; and Ryan Sorba, a writer who claims that being gay is a “hoax.”
Cody said MSU had no comment about the connection.
Bristow made headlines in 2007 when the student group he ran, Young Americans for Freedom at MSU, was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. At the time, Bristow was quoted by the Michigan Daily as saying the civil rights organization didn’t “have the right to compare us to groups like the KKK when we're not like that."
The group was labeled a hate group for promoting an agenda that included defunding minority student organizations and creating a white student group on campus. It also hosted controversial right wing and white nationalist speakers including Nick Griffin, who ran the British National Party, a racist political organization in England; and Chris Simcox, the head of the Minutemen Civilian Defense League, a group dedicated to patrolling the Mexican-American border to stop illegal immigration.
The National Policy Institute describes itself as “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”
Spencer serves as the organization’s president and is a white nationalist. In the last two days, events he had attempted to schedule at Texas A&M and the University of Florida have been canceled out of concerns of violence.
Spencer was to be a keynote speaker at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend. That protest turned violent. One protester against white nationalism, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed by a Dodge Charger driven by James Fields Jr. of Ohio. Nineteen others were also injured in what U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions characterized as an act of terrorism Monday.
This is a developing story.