The university, which had earlier acknowledged the organizer’s free speech rights, has now stopped the rally because of its links to the Charlottesville violence.
Texas A&M University canceled a “White Lives Matter” protest that had been scheduled for Sept. 11 despite initially defending the event, according to a press release Monday. The rally, organized in response to this weekend’s violent “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, would have featured white nationalist speaker Richard Spencer.
A&M administrators conferred with “law enforcement, system leaders and regents” before ultimately canceling the rally, university spokeswoman Amy Smith told the Houston Chronicle.
Smith said A&M was able to cancel the event because its organizer, Preston Wiginton, “directly linked his plans for A&M to the weekend violence in Charlottesville near the University of Virginia with a press release that read, ‘Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M.’”
Wiginton, who briefly attended A&M and has organized other white nationalist events, told HuffPost he had planned the rally because “young white people are just sick and tired of the liberal agenda of pushing white guilt down their throat.”
After A&M’s announcement Monday, Wiginton said he felt as though university administrators and state legislators, who had called for A&M to cancel the 9/11 rally, were saying, “White lives don’t matter.”
“They violated our First Amendment rights. Whites are now in the 1960s. Do we have to sit in the back of the bus?”
Several Texas state lawmakers had asked A&M to block the event, according to The Washington Post. Texas State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), whose district includes College Station, where Texas A&M is located, told Houston’s KTRK-TV in a statement earlier Monday that he “pledged to personally protest the event, which ‘does not reflect the values of Texas A&M University or the people of Texas.’”
Prior to canceling the rally, Texas A&M told The Batallion, the school’s paper, that the university “does not promote or agree with the organizer’s ideas or actions.” Smith also told the campus paper that Wiginton’s “views and those of the group he represents are counter to the core values of Texas A&M.”
She added, “While he has the right of free speech, so too do we have the right to refute those views and get on with the daily business of a world-class university.”
Wiginton said he had picked A&M because its students represent the younger generation and are generally nonviolent, according to The Eagle in Bryan, Texas. He also told The Eagle that the local police would do a better job than those in Charlottesville of protecting students and protesters.
He also told HuffPost that “Charlottesville was mishandled” and that “if the alt-right were allowed to speak and peacefully assemble, there wouldn’t be anybody dead today.”
Except the alt-right was allowed to assemble, until the event turned violent. It wasn’t simply one side’s behavior that caused deadly violence in Charlottesville ― it was a white nationalist who ran a woman down with his car. It was protesters and counter-protesters who were beating each other with flagpoles and bats, throwing punches and using chemical sprays.
Additionally, Wiginton had said before the cancellation that he didn’t see holding the protest on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a problem, saying that he consulted with a lot of “young people” (“18-, 25-year-olds”) and they “just don’t relate to 9/11.”
“Every day they see murder and explosions on TV. … They don’t attach themselves to something that happened 20 years ago. It’s a non-event to them,” he says.
The Center for American Progress notes a 2009 survey of millennials that indicated they considered the 9/11 attacks “as the most important influence shaping the attitudes and beliefs of their generation.” A sentiment echoed by a Morning Call report that features a 2011 Pew Research study that notes “more than any other generation, millennials said the attacks changed life in America ‘in a major way.’” Pew defined millennials as those born after 1980.
Wiginton held a December event at Texas A&M, also with Spencer as the speaker, that was “constantly on the brink of boiling over,” the Tribune reported.
He told HuffPost of that protest: “Our ancestors didn’t fight, didn’t conquer, didn’t pioneer, didn’t build for others to come over and benefit.”