AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M University late Monday called off a planned white supremacist rally on its campus next month, citing concerns of a “major security risk” following the demonstrations that turned deadly over the weekend in Virginia.
The decision came amid bipartisan pressure from Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature, where lawmakers said protecting free speech was important, but rejecting hate even more so.
A former A&M student named Preston Wiginton had been organizing a “white lives matter” rally in College Station, Texas, saying he was inspired by Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a vehicle plowed into a group of counterprotesters, killing at least one and injuring 19.
But the university said it was canceling the event because of “concerns about the safety of its students, faculty, staff, and the public.”
“Linking the tragedy of Charlottesville with the Texas A&M event creates a major security risk on our campus,” Texas A&M said in a statement. “Additionally, the daylong event would provide disruption to our class schedules and to student, faculty and staff movement.”
Wiginton said he’d invited prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer to address the rally. Spencer spoke at an A&M event in December, when he was met by hundreds of protesters, many of whom gathered at Kyle Field football stadium to hear music and speeches highlighting diversity and unity to counter Spencer’s appearance.
Texas A&M noted that it had changed its policy after those protests so that no outside individual or group could reserve campus facilities without the sponsorship of a university-sanctioned organization. It said that “none of the 1200-plus campus organizations invited Preston Wiginton nor did they agree to sponsor his events in December 2016 or on September 11 of this year.”
Instead, Wiginton, opted to plan next month’s event for outside at Rudder Plaza, in the middle of campus.
“Texas A&M’s support of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech cannot be questioned,” the statement said. “However, in this case, circumstances and information relating to the event have changed and the risks of threat to life and safety compel us to cancel the event.”
Word of the cancellation followed Dallas Democratic Rep. Helen Giddings giving a House floor speech Monday while nearly all of the chamber’s 150 members stood beside her. She urged university administrators to “unequivocally denounce and fight against this violent group” adding “all of us in the state of Texas want to say, with one voice, Texas will not stand for hate.”
Rep. Paul Workman, an Austin Republican, said a petition being circulated for A&M graduates in the House was attempting to “keep this from happening on our campus.” The chamber also held a moment of silence for victims killed and injured in Charlottesville.
Similar sentiments came from the Texas Senate, which held its own moment of silence.
“The First Amendment also allows us to respond in kind, to stand up and say what we believe as a society, as Americans and as Texans,” Republican Sen. Charles Schwertner, whose district includes College Station, said of protests that had been planned in response to Wiginton’s now-canceled rally. “We should not stand for bigotry, for violence, for racism.”
Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat who is black, had planned to go to the Texas A&M campus on Sept. 11, saying, “We will stand strong against those hate groups, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan.”
“My 17-year-old grandson asked me yesterday, ‘Should my generation be more like Martin Luther King or Malcom X? I had to pause and listen to the hurt in his voice and doubt in his ability to pursue the American dream,” West said. “I didn’t answer the question … That’s where we are in America today.”