Penn State

Ohio State responds to Spencer suit, cites safety as reason for denial

White nationalist demonstrators clash with a counter demonstrator as one throws a newspaper box at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.
White nationalist demonstrators clash with a counter demonstrator as one throws a newspaper box at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. AP, file

The latest response to a lawsuit against a Big Ten school by an “identification” paints a picture of white nationalist rallies that deliberately stirred dangerous chaos on college campuses.

Penn State is not responding yet to the lawsuit filed by Cameron Padgett over the university’s denial of a speaking engagement by National Policy Institute President Richard Spencer. Ohio State has responded to its own suit from Padgett, though.

In documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, the university’s attorneys responded to Padgett’s recently amended complaint with details regarding both the deadly Charlottesville, Virginia, rally in August and the contentious October rally at the University of Florida.

Ohio State said it had a responsibility to protect students and the school atmosphere and had no requirement to allow an event that could result in violence or disruption. The university’s attorneys denied it was a free speech issue, pointing out that Padgett and a “friend,” whose name was given as Gregory Ritter — believed to be an alias — are not students at the school.

Padgett identifies himself in his suit as a Georgia State student. Ohio State quotes a Miami Herald article in the filing in which Padgett said he had not brought Spencer to his own school because he didn’t “want to get killed on campus.”

The university noted that at Charlottesville, Spencer was booked for a speaking engagement on Aug. 12, but he “and his followers convened a surprise gathering on the campus” of the University of Virginia the night before, marching through campus in the dark carrying lit Tiki torches and chanting.

“Supporters and organizers of Mr. Spencer’s Aug. 11, 2017 march reportedly referred to it as a ‘military operation’ and deployed drones to surveil the campus,” the documents state. Participants “including Mr. Spencer reneged on prior safety plans that had been established with local officials, thereby escalating the potential and actual violence.”

One woman died on Aug. 12 after a Unite the Right participant drove a vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters.

Richard Spencer was met with protests and defiant chanting during his speech in at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Oct. 19.

The University of Florida declared a “de facto closing of the campus,” Ohio State said, and spent more than $500,000 in additional security throughout the area during Spencer’s visit, creating a state of emergency declared by the governor, readying the National Guard. Three men, who were identified by police as white nationalists, were arrested for attempted murder after firing shots a protesters following Spencer’s speech.

“... Mr. Spencer, Mr. Ritter and other event organizers and participants only feigned cooperation with local officials on safety matters while drawing up secret military-style plans to disobey law enforcement or campus directives if their event was limited in ways they deemed unacceptable,” according to Ohio State’s filing.

Both Ohio State and Penn State denied the speaking engagements, citing safety concerns. Penn State President Eric Barron said there is “no place for hatred, racism or bigotry in our society or on our campuses.”

Michigan State also denied an engagement on security grounds, but is currently engaged in mediation with Padgett, according to federal court records.

Padgett previously sued Auburn University but a federal judge ruled against the college in that case.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce