White nationalists and anti-racist protesters don’t agree on much. But they do agree on one thing about last week’s violent encounter outside of Richard Spencer’s speech at MSU: It could have been prevented or least better mitigated by the police.
“I’m sure we disagree some on this, but from my view it was the best present they could have given us,” said David Langdon, a longtime Lansing resident an antiracist organizer. He was referring to the police.
He said he had never seen a situation where police allowed opposition groups to come into contact.
“I’m pretty sure they set it up for it to be hard for Spencer supporters,” he said. “How else do you explain just letting us set up camp right in their way? I don’t see how they thought they could just have the Nazis walk a quarter of a mile from their vehicles. Why not park their vehicles in the parking lot next to or behind the venue. I still can’t believe that.”
Johan Carollo, a white nationalist who was present at MSU, said he agreed with Langdon’s assessment that this was a deliberate failure of the police “I feel like the whole point of it was to get the thing shut down, “ the Arkansas resident said by phone.
Ray Hall, U of M Flint police chief and a former captain with the Lansing Police Department, has handled controversial and potentially violent protests in his years in law enforcement. In 2006 he was responsible for planning the police response to a rally by neo-Nazis on the steps of the Capitol.
To maintain order that day, the city and state rented fencing and enclosed the Capitol steps to prevent the two sides from coming together. He said it worked, to a point. Some supporters of the neo-Nazis were infiltrated by opponents and small skirmishes broke out. But Hall points to a limit in policing under the Constitution.
“You can’t say if you believe A, line up here and if you believe B, line up here,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
The use of barriers to separate the opposing parties is standard procedure, Hall said.
Yet, at Michigan State, there were no such barriers.
Capt. Doug Monette of the Michigan State University Police Department he declined to discuss it beyond confirming there were no physical barriers.
Carollo is a colonel in the Traditionalist Workers’ Party. That’s a white nationalist group that has joined Spencer as he has toured colleges to spread the white nationalist gospel. In that role, he was informed about security preparations for the event, none of which materialized, he said.
“We were actually promised a barrier,” he said. “The parking lot where the counter protesters, Antifa and such, were congregated was actually supposed to be our private parking area that was supposed to be secured by the police. They told us that there would be three roadblocks set up and we were to come in through the north entrance and into that parking lot and they would secure us entry into the event.”
Monette denied the parking lot had been changed in an email Monday. He declined to elaborate, noting that the department does not discuss tactical decisions with the media or the public.
But hours before Carollo and others arrived for Spencer’s 4:30 p.m. speech, protesters moved their gathering across the street from Commuter Lot 89 to the empty northern parking lot of the Pavilion — the parking lot Carollo said was supposed to be for parking for his group.
For his part, Carollo said his group of about 30 was directed by Michigan State troopers to march into the protesting crowd on Farm Lane.
“We asked them how are we supposed to get into the event, where do you want us to go?” he said of the conversation with troopers stationed outside the Soil Science Building which also served as media parking. “He said if you guys want to go in you got to go that way and he pointed directly towards the crowd.”
Led by Carollo and Matthew Heimbach, a leader of the Traditionalist Workers Party, as well as National Policy Institute’s director of operations, Gregory Conte, the group followed the directions of the troopers and marched headlong into the protesters. That’s when violence broke out.
Law enforcement, the white nationalist said, “did not hold true to any of their promises.”
Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said barriers are one of the key recommendations her group makes to law enforcement having to respond to white nationalist events. She declined to discuss the MSU event specifically because she was not present.
“We see a lot of these demonstrations now and events where you have both the white supremacists and then the counter-protesters and Antifa,” she said.”And what we’ve seen after monitoring extremist events for decades is that the best thing to do, and the best thing to prevent violence, is to separate the white supremacists and the counter-protestors by using actual, physical barriers enforced by the physical presence of law enforcement officers.”