Ohio State won’t let Richard Spencer speak on campus, citing ‘substantial risk to public safety’

The decision comes after three of Spencer's supporters opened fire on counter-protesters.

Two supporters of Richard Spencer clash with protesters after Spencer spoke at the University of Florida. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Two supporters of Richard Spencer clash with protesters after Spencer spoke at the University of Florida. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Officials at Ohio State University won’t allow noted white nationalist Richard Spencer to rent space on campus, citing safety concerns after several of his supporters opened fire on counter-protesters at the University of Florida.

The events in Florida, of course, aren’t the first time that a white supremacist event has recently turned violent. In August, amid a “Unite the Right” rally at the University of Virginia, 19 people were injured and one woman was killed by a man who drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

In a letter from an attorney representing Ohio State sent on Friday, the lawyer noted the university was concerned that hosting Spencer would pose a “substantial risk to public safety, as well as material and substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the University.”


According to the letter, Ohio State officials came to this conclusion after this week’s events at the University of Florida, where three of Spencer’s supporters were arrested and charged with attempted homicide after they fired into a crowd of counter-protesters following Spencer’s speech. Counter-protesters were ultimately unharmed.

Now, the University of Florida is left with a $600,000 bill for the increased security — one that will ultimately trickle down to taxpayers — required for Spencer’s appearance on campus. Hundreds of police officers, as well as SWAT teams and snipers, mobilized at the school to help keep the peace.

Across the country, college administrators are struggling to figure out how to deal with the high costs of hosting controversial and arguably dangerous figures on campus.

If they decide to deny Spencer space on campus, however, they’re often subject to potentially costly lawsuits.

Georgia State University student Cameron Padgett, currently organizing a speaking tour for Spencer on college campuses across the country, has already announced his intention to sue Ohio State for denying his request.


Padgett also sued Penn State University on Friday for making a similar decision earlier this year. Shortly after the violence in Charlottesville, Penn State’s president decided that Spencer was “not welcome on our campus” because his events posed “a major security risk to students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus.”

The University of Cincinnati, on the other hand, was also under threat of legal action from Padgett’s lawyer but decided it will allow Spencer to proceed with booking event space on its campus.

As a First Amendment showdown brews between white supremacists and public universities, the law in this space is surprisingly unclear.