Protests against leading white nationalist Richard Spencer turned chaotic on Tuesday night, as students at Texas A&M University in College Station were met by a major police presence at the Memorial Student Center where Spencer was speaking.
Video posted by the school’s Battalion student newspaper showed hundreds of protesters—many carrying signs with anti-racist messages—amassing on the A&M campus as Spencer spoke to an estimated 400 people in what reports indicate was a contentious and frequently interrupted presentation.
Spencer, whose white nationalist views have earned him the title of “professional racist in khakis” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, had reportedly been invited to speak at the school by a former student who reserved the student center space for the presentation. Texas A&M distanced itself from the event, with a spokesperson explaining to the Texas Tribune that Spencer’s brand of nationalist racism is “in direct conflict with our core values.”
As Spencer’s speech proceeded on Tuesday night, a group of protesters gathered at the the school’s student union.
As the night went on, the group was violently expelled by police clad in riot gear, bearing truncheons.
Inside the auditorium, where Spencer told a crowd of approximately 400 people that “what I care about is white identity,” protesters raised their fists in defiance.
According to NBC News, at least one audience member had a microphone taken away from her after repeatedly asking Spencer if he was a racist. Another protester stood alongside Spencer’s rostrum dressed as a clown. At one point during the presentation, A&M Campus Rabbi Matt Rosenberg offered to sit with Spencer to study “radical inclusion and love”—an offer Spencer half-heartedly accepted, before pivoting to espouse his rhetoric of nationalist racism.
Outside the union, thousands of students and A&M community members gathered for an “Aggies United” event at the school’s football stadium. There, chancellor John Sharp rallied the crowd, saying, “if you’re a purveyor of hate and divisiveness, and you want to spew that kind of venom, this is the last campus on Earth you want to come to do that.”
A separate “silent protest” was also held in the school’s Rudder Plaza. Organized by international affairs graduate student Nick Meindl, this event was designed to deescalate the heated rhetoric and hostility of the night.
“I felt the need to have a silent protest to control the narrative to deny Mr. Spencer and his followers and supporters the ammunition they need to further polarize this issue and polarize people on this subject,” Miendl told the Battalion. “Not allowing them to paint all protesters and opponents of white nationalism and white supremacy with one single brush as radicals in their own right.”
University of Huston student Michael Leone, however, took a more aggressive stance.
“Last time Nazis took over in the world there wasn’t all this love and hugs that got rid of them, it was the communists. It was the anti-fascist fighters,” he explained to the Battalion. “Some people here — they’re all about, ‘Love trumps hate’ and that’s good and all, but it’s not just love that’s going to trump hate and trump fascism.”
Despite the scenes at the student union, and the throngs of angry protesters who reportedly flanked the auditorium where Spencer spoke, the evening reportedly ended on a peaceful note. According to campus police, only two arrests were made—both of them non-students.