In March the Georgia Board of Regents adopted a system-wide “freedom of expression” policy limiting outside speakers and large demonstrations to specifically designated campus areas as a way of handling protests.
But it’s unclear if that policy would provide any protection against the type of speech that roiled the Auburn University campus Tuesday when white supremacist Richard Spencer spoke in a rented campus auditorium.
Spencer, who became known nationally for coining the term “alt-right” to describe his mix of racial and populist conservatism, spoke before a crowd of at least 430 in Auburn’s Foy Hall, which included supporters, critics and reporters. Outside hundreds of counter-protesters demonstrated against him.
Late last week, Auburn administrators sought to block Spencer from speaking, claiming the event presented a danger to the campus. But a federal judge overruled the university on free speech grounds, allowing the event to go forward.
Experts who monitor racists and other extremist groups say the alt-right is targeting universities. Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, said Auburn officials erred by trying to cancel the event. First, it flies in opposition to established First Amendment rights. Second, it handed Spencer a talking point.
“Richard Spencer will use this event at Auburn to catapult himself to events at other universities,” she said.
Is Georgia prepared for the campus recruiting efforts of white supremacists? Read more in this week’s AJC Watchdog column here.