By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Alabama’s Auburn University canceled a campus speech by Richard Spencer, a white U.S. nationalist best known for drawing Nazi-like salutes at a party to celebrate President Donald Trump’s election last year, citing safety concerns.
Auburn said it decided to drop Spencer’s visit scheduled for Tuesday evening “based on legitimate concerns and credible evidence that it will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors.”
The university, located in the city of the same name in Alabama, did not elaborate on its safety concerns, and school officials could not be reached for further comment.
Spencer, 38, said he was incensed over the cancellation and considered it an attack on his right to free speech.
“I’m absolutely disgusted,” Spencer told Reuters. “That’s the only way to put it.”
Spencer, who leads the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist and nationalist think tank, said his organization paid about $700 to rent a room at the university for the speech and spent an additional $2,200 for security.
Spencer said Auburn was aware of the violent threats and protests that typically follow him to his speaking engagements.
When Spencer spoke at Texas A&M University in December, some 1,000 people gathered in protest. In January, he was hit in the face by a protestor during a televised interview in Washington.
Auburn had been criticized on social media by students and parents who said the university was supporting hate speech by allowing Spencer to visit. In response, the university said in a statement on Wednesday that it strongly deplored Spencer’s views, but it would uphold his right to speak.
After the cancellation, Spencer said he would give the speech at another location in Auburn on Tuesday. He did not say where.
Spencer said his talk would touch on free speech issues but mainly focus on his newfound opposition to Trump.
Spencer and other white nationalists soured on the Republican president after the recent U.S. bomb attacks in Syria and Afghanistan. “We are a true oppositional force,” Spencer said.
An outspoken supporter of Trump in the 2016 campaign, Spencer rose from relative obscurity in the days after the Nov. 8 election. Widely circulated video footage showed some Trump supporters giving Nazi-style salutes to Spencer during a gathering in Washington to celebrate the Republican candidate’s victory.
In an interview with the New York Times shortly after the incident, Trump condemned the conference organized by Spencer.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Rigby)