Penn State

They both said no to a white nationalist. Now Penn State, Ohio State are being sued.

White nationalist Richard Spencer holds a news conference before giving a speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., on Thursday.
White nationalist Richard Spencer holds a news conference before giving a speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., on Thursday. Orlando Sentinel via TNS

Penn State and Ohio State might be adversaries in Saturday’s football game, but as of Monday, they have a common opponent.

Both universities are being sued in an attempt to force them to allow a speech by white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.

Cameron Padgett, 29, a Georgia State senior who says in court documents that he “subscribes to identitarian philosophy,” filed a lawsuit against Penn State on Friday.

Ohio State got the same treatment Sunday, with more documents in that case following Monday morning.

Kyle Bristow, a Michigan attorney who has represented Padgett in other cases — including a suit against another Big Ten school, Michigan State — is listed as counsel in both cases. In the Penn State suit, he is joined by A. Jordan Rushie, of Randazza Legal Group in Philadelphia, who is noted as “lead trial attorney.”

Rushie’s website says he specializes in First Amendment, defamation, libel and slander, as well as anti-SLAPP suits. SLAPP is short for “strategic litigation against public participation,” suits that are often seen as attempting to “chill” free speech.

The language in the two cases is often the same. Both say Spencer is “arguably the foremost advocate for “alt-right” philosophy in the world and is rapidly becoming a major figure in contemporary American politics.”

Both cases push back against the universities’ claims that Spencer’s appearances were denied because of safety concerns, placing blame not on the participants on the right, but on protesters from the left, saying “radical leftists affiliated with the Antifa political movement have previously violently attacked Spencer and Spencer’s supporters at venues at which (they) peacefully assembled with the goal of shutting down Spencer’s events.”

One of those events turned violent was a rally in Charlottesville, Va. — home of the University of Virginia — in August where protesters stood in opposition to white nationalists who had marched with Tiki torches and chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” That protest ended when police say James Fields, 20, of Ohio, drove his car into the crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people.

Padgett asks for the same thing in both cases. He wants Spencer to speak on campus. He wants a judgment of $75,000. And he doesn’t want to pay for police protection for the speeches. His suits point to similar incendiary speakers at UC Berkley, where the university allegedly spent $600,000 to protect conservative Jewish speaker Ben Shapiro and $800,000 to provide security for an appearance by “flamboyantly homosexual” conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos.

Penn State would not comment on the case. Spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

In August, however, President Eric Barron, who is individually named in Padgett’s suit, addressed the denial of Spencer’s appearance.

“I disagree profoundly with the content that has been presented publicly about this speaker’s views which are abhorrent and contradictory to our university’s values. There is no place for hatred, bigotry or racism in our society and on our campuses,” he wrote. “... Penn State is an institution of higher education, and fully supports the right of free speech and encourages its expression in thoughtful and respectful ways, even when we strongly disagree with the opinions expressed. But the First Amendment does not require our university to risk imminent violence.”

Padgett previously took Auburn to court over the same issue and won. On Saturday, Spencer appeared at the University of Florida, where police say three white nationalists heckled protestors with Nazi chants and salutes before one of the men pulled out a gun and the other two encouraged him to use it and he did. All three are charged with attempted murder.

Ohio State has seen this coming. Bristow threatened that school, and the University of Cincinnati, with legal action earlier this month.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

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