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Texas House calls on Texas A&M chancellor to halt white nationalist rally

After last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Texas House members Monday called on the Texas A&M University System chancellor to stop a "White Lives Matter" rally from taking place on campus next month.

Rep. Helen Giddings D-DeSoto, asks her fellow House members to stand with her against racism after white nationalists announced a planned rally on the Texas A&M campus.

After a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent over the weekend, Texas House members on Monday called upon the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System to stop a planned "White Lives Matter" from taking place on the College Station campus.

As the violence unfolded in Virginia, Preston Wiginton, a Texan with deep ties to white nationalist movements, announced he would host a rally on Sept. 11 on the Texas A&M campus. 

“TODAY CHARLOTTESVILLE TOMORROW TEXAS A&M,” the press release said. Richard Spencer, a white nationalist whose December speech at Texas A&M drew thousands of protesters, was expected to attend.

In the House chamber Monday, lawmakers called for a moment of silence to honor the three people killed in Charlottesville and denounced the actions of the white nationalists who attended the "Unite the Right" march there. 

"This is not Republican versus Democrat, or even white versus black," said Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto. "This is about right versus wrong. This is about empowering or not empowering the forces of bigotry."

Lawmakers asked Chancellor John Sharp to stop the rally planned for September. 

And just hours later,  Rep. John Raney, R-College Station, said he'd received a message from Sharp, saying the event had been canceled to protect student safety. 

Raney said the event was axed "because of concerns with hate messages that have been on Facebook, and people who’ve said they were coming and they were bringing their weapons." He added the local police department said they "can't handle that."  

Earlier in the afternoon, lawmakers had urged university administrators – and Sharp, in particular – to prevent the event from happening.  

"We call upon the Texas A&M System and university administrators, and all of our state leadership, students, [and] alumni to unequivocally denounce and fight against these violent groups," Giddings said. "Our message to the world is clear: Texas will not engage in or tolerate bigotry, hatred and violence." 

Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, said Texas A&M alumni in the House planned to send a separate letter to Sharp reiterating the request. 

"The members of this House that are Aggie alumni strongly condemn the notion that they will use our campus to further these bad ideas," Workman said. "We as Aggies in the House call upon Chancellor Sharp to try to intervene and try to keep this from happening on our campus."

A&M officials had earlier been left frustrated and struggling to find a solutionAs a public university, it's limited by the First Amendment in how it handles events on campus that it finds objectionable.

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.

"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."

Reporter Morgan Smith contributed to this report. 

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.

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Helen Giddings Paul Workman Texas House of Representatives