Word of a forthcoming speech to be delivered by white nationalist Richard Spencer at Texas A&M University next month has jolted many at the school and its surrounding community, sparking multiple petitions that have already accrued thousands of signatures -- including one calling for the university to cancel the speech.
Spencer recently gained national media attention after The Atlantic posted a video of a speech he gave at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., for the annual conference of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank that is headed by Spencer.
In the video, he declared, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” and members of the crowd can be seen throwing up their hands in a Nazi salute.
Texas A&M spokesperson Amy B. Smith on Wednesday said in a statement to The Battalion, the university's student newspaper, that Spencer’s views were not shared by the university, but added that there was little it could do to stop him from speaking on campus.
“Private citizens are permitted to reserve space available to the public as we are a public university,” the official said.
Spencer is expected to speak at Texas A&M on Dec. 6, according to The Battalion.
One petition denouncing Spencer's appearance at the school, posted on Change.org, has collected well over 7,000 signatures.
The petition originally asked Texas A&M to cancel Spencer's speech, but now features a correction that acknowledges the university's statement to The Battalion.
"It should be known that Texas A&M University was not the inviting party for this speaker and were unaware this event was taking place on campus. A private donor is holding this event under Class 5: non-Texas A&M University-related use of public space," the petition said. "While it seems that canceling this event may not be possible, we can still send the message, loud and clear, that hatred is not tolerated by the Aggie community."
The host of the event is Preston Wiginton, a white nationalist who the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group that monitors hate crimes and hate speech, claims has rented an apartment from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Spencer's appearance at Texas A&M emerges at a time when white nationalists appear to have become emboldened in the wake of Donald Trump's election.
Trump, whose staunch anti-immigration policies were embraced by some of his supporters, disavowed and condemned the support of white nationalists and the alt-right movement in an interview with The New York Times this week. Subsequently, Spencer expressed "disappointment" with Trump's verbal rejection of his movement in an interview with The Associated Press, saying that he would "wait and see" how Trump would govern.
Spencer has been called "arguably the father of the alt-right," by the SPLC, which notes on its website that alt-right supporters embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.
Steve Bannon, who was named chief strategist and senior counselor by the president-elect, has been labeled a white nationalist by critics largely because of his former position as executive chairman of the right wing website Breitbart News. The site has been accused of giving a platform to the alt-right movement. Bannon has rejected those labels.
"I'm not a white nationalist, I'm a nationalist. I'm an economic nationalist," Bannon said in a recent interview with columnist Michael Wolff in The Hollywood Reporter.
During an interview with veteran newscaster Roland Martin of News One, Spencer downplayed the Nazi salutes captured on video. Martin asked Spencer if the associations with Nazism were "offensive to WWII veterans," given that the U.S. fought against that ideology during the war.
Spencer replied by chalking up the behavior of the crowd to "exuberance."
He said that the "liberal media" had overblown the incident, and argues that his alt-right movement would have to make a better effort to avoid negative attention in the future. During his speech in Washington, D.C., Spencer referred to the media as "lugenpresse," which means "lying press." The word has been characterized as a German slur and was popularized by Nazis, although it has been used in other contexts by German writers.
"People are paying attention to us now," Spencer said, referring to the need to present a more acceptable image to the public.