The attorney who successfully sued Michigan State University to allow white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus has hosted local white nationalist meetings under the radar every six months for the last two years.
The meetings have been held at the Best Western Hotel, formerly the Holiday Inn Express, in Okemos.
Approximately 35 people gathered for the session in October, organized by attorney Kyle Bristow. Supporters advance the theory that white people are discriminated against despite being superior to people of color. They’re closely tied to groups that historically have perpetrated racial violence such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
Among those attending the meeting were Bristow, head of the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas; Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Youth Network; and John Mangopoulos, Okemos resident and public access television show host. A meeting held in October 2016 featured James Edwards, host of the Political Cesspool, a white nationalist radio program.
Reached by email, Bristow responded to questions about the meetings with “LOL,” internet shorthand for laughing out loud. Heimbach did not respond to an email, and the only identifiable email address for Mangopoulos bounced back.
Scott Goldammer, general manager of the Best Western, declined to comment on the meetings.
Meridian Township Police Chief Dave Hall said he was unaware of the meetings until City Pulse brought it to his attention in October. The hotel is located in Alaiedon Township, just over the boundary from Meridian. Hall said he referred the information to Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth.
On Friday, Wriggelsworth confirmed he was aware of the meetings as a result of the notification from Hall.
“There have not been any incidents tied to those meetings that we are aware of,” Wriggelsworth said.
He expressed concern that City Pulse’s exposure of the meetings could lead to protests and potential violence from anti-racist advocates.
Bristow has risen in prominence among white nationalist circles since his time as a student at Michigan State University in mid-2000s. At the time he headed the student group Young Americans for Freedom. That group, under his leadership, was labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2007 for a series of racist, xenophobic and homophobic events and speakers.
However, the national organization for Young Americans for Freedom is pushing back on Bristow’s ties to the conservative group, started by William F. Buckley in the 1960s. In an email to City Pulse, Grant Strobl, the current national chairman for YAF, said MSU’s chapter was “never chartered.”
But in 2007, right after the group was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the national organization spent $800 on a full-page ad in The State News to defend itself. In an interview with The State News later that year, YAF’s National Chairman Eric Johnson referred to the group as a “chapter.”
Nonetheless, Strobl contends the MSU organization was not officially a part of the national group. “It seems the very decentralized national office at the time may have just overlooked the details of Bristow’s group and made some false assumptions when the advertisement was placed,” he wrote in a follow-up email.
For his part, Bristow bristles at implications the organization he brought to national attention was not a chartered part of the national organization.
“You know damned well that National YAF supported MSU-YAF and fully approved its activities,” wrote Bristow in an email. “It’s fake news to think that MSU-YAF was not a chartered YAF chapter.”
He notes that the original youth organization founded by Buckley was recently purchased by the Young Americans Foundation, a group he classifies as a neo-conservative group.
“It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots and to deduce that the purchase of YAF by YAF was for fundraising purposes and that Young America’s Foundation is rewriting history to make its neocon donors happy,” he wrote.
Bristow now serves as the executive director of the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas. That group has been listed by the SPLC as a hate group as well. Spencer and radio host Edwards serve on the board of directors for the organization.
Heimbach created the White Student Union at Towson University in Maryland, causing outrage and controversy in 2013 and has been a rising star among white nationalist organizers and speakers across the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in Kentucky in 2017 for assaulting a protester at a political rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Heimbach argued he was acting as a deputy for the campaign, according to a report in the Louisville Courier Journal.
Spencer will speak at Michigan State University March 5 at the Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education. As part of the settlement paving the way for Spencer’s speech, Bristow will be paid $27,400 for his legal work representing Cameron Padgett. Padgett has been booking private speaking events at public universities in the country, including Florida, Texas, Alabama and the University of Michigan. If a public university balks at renting the facility for the white nationalist to use, Padgett sues under First Amendment grounds.
Edwards unsuccessfully sued the Detroit News, with Bristow representing him, claiming libel. Edwards cried foul when an editorial writer implied the radio host was a leader in the KKK. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in October of last year that there was no libel because while Edwards was not an elected leader, he was an embodiment of the organization and a mouthpiece for its leaders.