By Sean Shapiro
Special to the TJP
Members of the Jewish community at Texas A&M and across the state are planning to protest when the founder of a white supremacist group will speak on campus in College Station on Dec. 6.
The university has planned an “Aggies United” event at the same time, providing an alternative for A&M students.
“You have to fight hate with love, and I think that’s the most important thing right now,” Plano senior Daniel Rosenfield, who is the executive vice president of the Texas A&M Student Government Association, said. “This goes against everything that A&M stands for. This is an open, welcoming campus. Not a place for hate, and we have to send that correct message.”
Richard Spencer is the white nationalist who grabbed national news early in November after video surfaced with him quoting Nazi propaganda and announcing “Heil Trump” at a white nationalist conference in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the results of the election. That rally also included images of his supporters raising Nazi salutes.
And now Spencer, who graduated from Dallas’ St. Mark’s School of Texas, is coming to speak at a private event at Texas A&M next week.
In 2008, Spencer co-founded AlternativeRight.com and coined the phrase as an alternative conservative movement that many have taken to include institutionalized racism and white supremacy.
He was invited by a former student, who booked the space. According to a university representative, private individuals may book space since Texas A&M is a public university and Spencer will be allowed to speak, but his rhetoric directly conflicts with the university core values.
“I was completely shocked, gobsmacked really,” Matt Rosenberg, the executive director of Hillel and the campus rabbi at Texas A&M, said. “I was hoping it was just a nightmare.”
Rosenberg and others on campus have urged Texas A&M to cancel the event. So has Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.
“This man is one of the worst hatemongers in America, and his white supremacist and other bigoted ideas are sickening. I urge the university to deny him access to any facilities on campus,” Lauder said Nov. 24 in a statement.
The Anti-Defamation League released a statement Nov. 23 saying it was “concerned” about Spencer’s planned speech and urged people not to attend the event.
Texas A&M President Michael K. Young cited freedom of speech and wrote on A&M’s website that the university could not deny him his rights. He also wrote that the Aggies United event would be a chance to “express commitment to unity.”
Rosenberg said there will be a strong response to the event on campus and on social media. Through his Twitter account he continues to encourage students to report the event, while he and other rabbis across Texas will bring congregants to campus in a protest.
Rosenberg was actually scheduled to be in Orlando next week and teach at a Hillel’s Global Assembly. He is not attending that event anymore and will stay on campus to be with the community during the speech.
“I think it’s important that we show this is a one-off, this is a thing that’s happening against what we believe and doesn’t reflect life at Texas A&M,” Rosenberg said. “It really is a great school for Jews and we are leading the response to this. But you will also see other groups and non-Jews stand up with us; this is a place where we are accepting of everyone, and hate isn’t accepted.”
Rosenfield has similar thoughts.
“That’s the most important thing,” Rosenfield said. “If he is going to speak what he believes, and he has the right to do that, we need to be stronger and show what this campus really is about.”