Texas A&M University late Monday abruptly canceled a planned white supremacist rally on its campus next month, amid bipartisan pressure from state lawmakers who said hatred should be rejected in all forms -- despite First Amendment protections.
An announcement on the House floor by Republican Rep. John Raney said A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp had opted to scuttle the event set for Sept. 11 because of concerns police would be stretched thin providing security. The A&M System confirmed the cancellation in a statement, citing safety concerns for "students, faculty, staff and the public."
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.
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Wiginton said he'd invited prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer to address the Texas 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.
Word of the cancellation came hours after Dallas Democratic Rep. Helen Giddings gave a House floor speech 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, added that a petition being circulated for A&M graduates in the House was attempting to "keep this from happening on our campus." The chamber then held a moment of silence for victims killed and injured in Charlottesville.
Similar sentiments came from the Texas Senate, which also held its own moment of silence.
Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Republican whose district includes College Station, has said he had planned to attend a counter-protest of the A&M rally.
Although the group may be allowed to meet on campus, Schwertner said, "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. We should not stand for bigotry, for violence, for racism."
Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat who is black, said he'll also go to the Texas A&M campus on Sept. 11.
"We will do everything in our power to make sure those days gone by will not be repeated. I'm confident they won't be," he said, recalling the Jim Crow-era of segregation and discrimination. "We will stand strong against those hate groups, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan."
West added: "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. I didn't answer the question ... That's where we are in America today.'"
"After consultation with law enforcement and considerable study, Texas A&M is cancelling the event scheduled by Preston Wiginton at Rudder Plaza on campus on September 11 because of concerns about the safety of its students, faculty, staff, and the public.
"Texas A&M changed its policy after December’s protests so that no outside individual or group could reserve campus facilities without the sponsorship of a university-sanctioned group. 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. With no university facilities afforded him, he chose instead to plan his event outdoors for September 11 at Rudder Plaza, in the middle of campus, during a school day, with a notification to the media under the headline “Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M.”
"Linking the tragedy of Charlottesville with the Texas A&M event creates a major security risk on our campus. Additionally, the daylong event would provide disruption to our class schedules and to student, faculty and staff movement (both bus system and pedestrian).
"Texas A&M’s support of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech cannot be questioned. On December 6, 2016 the university and law enforcement allowed the same speaker the opportunity to share his views, taking all of the necessary precautions to ensure a peaceful event. 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.
"Finally, the thoughts and prayers of Aggies here on campus and around the world are with those individuals affected by the tragedy in Charlottesville."