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The University of Michigan is considering allowing Richard Spencer to speak on campus

White nationalist Richard Spencer spoke Oct. 19 at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)
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The University of Michigan and the University of Cincinnati are considering requests from the white-nationalist National Policy Institute to allow Richard Spencer to speak on campus.

Spencer, the white nationalist whose speech at the University of Florida earlier this month prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency and cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars for security, continues to seek campus speaking events to spread his message, which includes asserting that “race is the foundation of identity.”

Several public universities denied his requests in the days after he led an August torchlight march through the University of Virginia. That march ignited clashes between white nationalists and white supremacists and counterprotesters that turned deadly in Charlottesville the next day.

But with free-speech rights at center stage — underscored by a lawsuit filed by a Spencer supporter against Michigan State University after it denied a request to allow his event — some public university leaders are reluctantly granting him a platform.

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Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the University of Michigan, said a representative of the National Policy Institute sent a request to reserve space so Spencer could speak on the Michigan campus, with flexibility regarding the date. “The university will carefully consider this request, paying close attention to the safety and security of our community,” he wrote in an email. “No decisions have been made.”

The University of Cincinnati declined a request from Cameron Padgett, a Spencer supporter, for a venue capable of holding 500 people in late October, but “indicated a willingness to look at other dates,” said Greg Vehr, a spokesman for the university.

“At this point, we’re still assessing public safety and other contingencies,” Vehr said, adding that the university has not made any commitment and doesn’t have a signed contract. But the university is clearly preparing the campus community.

“We wanted to send a clear message that while we’re going to support freedom of speech, we also have no support for the messages of the National Policy Institute,” Vehr said.

University of Cincinnati officials created a video in advance of a possible visit, with the president saying the campus community can choose how to respond to Spencer’s visit, and community members talking about values they cherish at the university, and ending with the message, “We choose love.”

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