By Lisa Maria Garza
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Reuters) – Texas A&M University students and activists protested against a speech on Tuesday by white nationalist Richard Spencer, who was filmed at a conference last month saying “Hail Trump”, drawing Nazi-like salutes from some spectators.
About 1,000 demonstrators waved flags, marched, sang songs and shouted through loudspeakers outside the Memorial Student Center on the campus, where Spencer was speaking, as state police in riot gear stood by, blocking them from entering.
Caitlin Miles, a 26-year-old graduate student, stood on top of a box and yelled over the sound of tambourines and trumpets, telling her fellow demonstrators not to engage with any Spencer supporters.
“He has made a lot of remarks and promoted chants that hail back to Nazi slogans. This is a campus that sacrificed nearly half of its student body to fight Nazis,” Miles told Reuters.
Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, has said the opposition around his speech is a testament to the reach of the so-called alt-right movement, a loose grouping characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.
“They might think that they’re drowning us out, but they’re doing the exact opposite,” Spencer said in an interview.
After last month’s filmed event in Washington D.C., President-elect Donald Trump disavowed the group and sought to distance himself from its views.
The university in College Station, Texas, said its leaders explored whether it could legally prohibit Spencer’s event, but ultimately recognized its obligation to uphold free speech, university spokeswoman Amy Smith said.
Spencer was invited to the campus by university alumnus Preston Wiginton, a prominent white supremacist, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate speech.
“With the Trump election, white people in America have shown concern over political events of immigration and white people being displaced and marginalized,” Wiginton said in an interview. “To me, part of Spencer being here is part of that concern.”
(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in College Station Editing by Colleen Jenkins)