White nationalist rally at Texas A&M to feature Richard Spencer; counterprotest planned

A College Station white nationalist is planning a rally on the campus of Texas A&M University that will feature the infamous self-described "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer. Students are already planning a counterprotest. 

State police in riot gear face protesters at Texas A&M during white nationalist Richard Spencer's visit on December 6, 2016. Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

*Editor's note: This article has been updated to include details about Richard Spencer's appearance and comments from A&M System Regent Tony Buzbee.

As the nation watched tension between white nationalists and counterprotesters turn violent Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, worries began to emerge that the discord would come to a Texas college town next. 

Richard Spencer, an infamous white nationalist who brought major unrest to Texas A&M University once already, will be coming to College Station again, according to the man who brought him to the university the first time. This time, the event will take place on Sept. 11 at a "White Lives Matter Rally" hosted by Preston Wiginton, a Texan with deep ties to white nationalist movements. 

Wiginton announced plans for the rally Saturday afternoon, saying he had invited Spencer. On Sunday, Wiginton said Spencer confirmed plans to attend. 

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At the top of a Saturday press release announcing the event, Wiginton declared “TODAY CHARLOTTESVILLE TOMORROW TEXAS A&M,” referencing the violence in Virginia. 

Word of the planned rally generated immediate outrage on social media. Within hours, a counterprotest had been planned. That event will be called “BTHO Hate,” the name of which borrows from an A&M football chant expressing the desire to “beat the hell outta” the opposing team. 

The organizer of the counterprotest said the event would be nonviolent, and was organized to “demonstrate that members of the Aggie community do not support the hateful bigotry espoused by Wiginton and the planned speakers.”

“White supremacists keep coming to our campus thinking we’re going to support them,” said Adam Key, a doctoral student at A&M and the organizer of the counterprotest. “Just like the last time they showed up, we want to demonstrate as clearly as we can that their ideas are not welcome here.”

The last time was in December, when Spencer gave a speech to about 400 people at A&M's Memorial Student Center. That night, the campus seemed constantly on the brink of boiling over. Spencer's talk was interrupted repeatedly with shouting, pushing and shoving among people in the crowd.

Outside, thousands of people protested, leading the Texas Department of Public Safety to clear A&M’s Memorial Student Center out of safety concerns. Meanwhile, A&M held its own simultaneous concert event at its football stadium across the street.

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“We hoped that December was the last time we would have to protest them,” Key said. “Aggies started fighting Nazis in World War II. We have no plans to stop any time soon.”

The planned site for Wiginton's rally is a fountain named after famous Aggie Gen. James Earl Rudder, who led a group of Army Rangers up 100-foot cliffs to topple Nazi gun barracks during the D-Day invasion.

Wiginton, who briefly attended A&M and has organized several white nationalist events at the school, said in his press release that he has invited Spencer back to College Station for the September event. There will be other speakers and a DJ, too, he said. The focus, he said, will be to protest “the liberal agenda of White Guilt and white genocide that is taught at most all universities in America.” There will also protests against specific A&M professors.

“Various groups throughout the country concerned with the political status of whites in America will be attending as well,” he wrote.

Details for the counterprotest were less specific. Key said participants will try to get as close to Wiginton’s event as possible. On Facebook, organizers proposed forming a “maroon wall” of students to block Wiginton’s message from the general public. A&M students used a similar strategy when the infamous Westboro Baptist Church protested a military funeral in College Station in 2012.

A&M officials, meanwhile, have been left frustrated and struggling to find a solution. As a public university, it's limited by the First Amendment in how it handles events on campus that it finds objectionable. The university hasn't publicly responded to the September plans. But in a Facebook post, A&M System Regent Tony Buzbee, a prominent Houston lawyer, said he has looked into whether the university could keep Wiginton from holding events on campus.

"Because we offer these facilities to the public for use, we cannot deny such use due to political ideology or speech content," Buzbee said. "The First Amendment allows speech like this, even though it is repugnant and wrong."

Ultimately, Buzbee said, Wiginton is seeking attention.

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"He has never accomplished anything positive in his life and never will," Buzbee said. "It is a damn shame that our university, which sent more officers to fight the Nazis than all the service academies combined, would be tarnished by trash like him. But, in the end, the best way to deal with a lowlife like him is to ignore him."

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and Tony Buzbee have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.