In the wake of the white supremacist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, a battle has erupted over Texas A&M University’s (TAMU) decision to cancel a “White Lives Matter” rally that was scheduled for September 11.
Preston Wiginton, a local white supremacist and organiser of the event, first announced it on the day of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, one of the largest white supremacist gatherings in recent US history.
TAMU announced the cancellation of the event, which would have included far-right and neo-Nazi speakers, in a statement on Monday, explaining that the event created “concerns about the safety of … students, faculty and the public”.
After the university announced its cancellation on Monday, the Texas Tribune reported that Wiginton is working with lawyers to pursue a legal suit against Texas A&M for cancelling the rally.
In a statement, he claimed that “it appears that at TAMU white lives don’t matter and the demise of the white population is of no concern to them”.
With anti-racist protests taking place throughout the country, far-right events are under increasing scrutiny and drawing condemnation from politicians, officials and community leaders from across the political spectrum.
James Alex Fields, who travelled from Ohio to attend Charlottesville’s Unite the Right, is accused of murdering 32-year-old Heather Heyer, an anti-racist protester, and injuring several others when he rammed his car into a march against the far-right rally.
Wiginton cited Charlottesville as his inspiration for the White Lives Matter rally in Texas, saying it would voice opposition to “the liberal anti-white agenda”.
“Today, Charlottesville, tomorrow Texas A&M,” he wrote.
He planned on bringing Richard Spencer, a leader in the alt-right, a loosely knit coalition of far-right groups that includes white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Others who were slated to speak included Ken Reed, an organiser with the neo-Nazi-linked White Lives Matter group, and Sacco Vandal, a far-right radio host whose show has discussed “white rape gangs” to target women and the supposed necessity of “white sharia”.
In December, more than 1,200 people protested against a lecture given by Spencer at TAMU.
Adam Key, a doctoral student at the university, said that thousands of students and community members are planning to hold a counterprotest and to form a human wall around the white supremacists if the rally is reinstated.
“[Wiginton] is exploiting the Charlottesville tragedy and using [Heyer’s] death as a cheap political prop,” Key told Al Jazeera. “These ideas, this hatred and bigotry – it’s not welcome here.”
He added: “Just because they have the right to say whatever they want doesn’t mean that they should say it … And if they’re going to, we will certainly be there to express our opposition.”
The University of Florida has also denied an event permit for Spencer’s think-tank, the National Policy Institute.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based watchdog, has classified White Lives Matter as a hate group.
Founded in 2015 in response to the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, White Lives Matter is linked to the Texas-based Aryan Renaissance Society, of which Reed is the national director.
The SPLC describes White Lives Matter as “a neo-Nazi group” and notes that its members regularly post anti-Semitic and racist content on their social media accounts.
In some instances, White Lives Matter members have posted photos of themselves performing Nazi salutes with their children. In other posts, they evoked neo-Nazi numerology like “1488”.
The number 14 refers to what is known as the 14 words, one of the most popular white supremacist slogans in the world: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
The number 88 – referring to “h”, the eighth letter of the alphabet – means “hail Hitler”.
Others post “Kek”, a phrase popular among far-right social media users that is often said to mean “kill every k*ke”.
In Houston, Austin and elsewhere in Texas, White Lives Matter protesters regularly attend events with rifles and other firearms.
In October 2016, dozens of White Lives Matter participants gathered in front of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Houston with guns.
In August 2016, the group surrounded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Houston and chanted “white lives matter”.
In the case that a court rules in favour of the rally, David Michael Smith of the Houston Socialist Movement said his movement will make the trek to College Station to “shut it down”.
His group has squared off against White Lives Matter and other far-right groups in Texas on several occasions.
“They are a front group for different neo-Nazi organisations, including the Aryan Renaissance Society, and … they’ll go anywhere in the state or beyond to try and spread the message of white supremacy,” he said of White Lives Matter.
“We don’t believe fascists should be given a platform to spread their filth,” he added. “When Nazis get up there and say they run this country, that it is their blood and soil, echoing the worst of the Third Reich, those are fighting words.”
‘Not even a coded threat’
The alt-right and similar far-right groups rallied behind US President Donald Trump‘s electoral campaign and celebrated his victory, pointing to policies designed to limit immigration and repeal affirmative action, among others.
Recent months have seen an increase in clashes between anti-fascists and far-right groups.
Trump condemned far-right groups two days after the Unite the Right rally, but was widely criticised for his initial statement decrying violence from “many sides”.
Although he later disavowed the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, Trump placed a heavy share of the blame on anti-fascists and leftists who protested against the white supremacist gathering. Declining to attack the alt-right, Trump said the “alt-left” were “very, very violent”.
Anti-racist protests have been held across the US on Saturday, with demonstrators in several cities rallying against the far-right and Confederate monuments.
Charlottesville came amid a surge in white supremacist organising, particularly on university campuses, according to the SPLC. From Trump’s election in November 2016 until June, the group documented 330 bias incidents on campuses.
Vanguard America, a self-described fascist group that advocates a white ethnostate, organised a concerted effort dubbed “the Texan offensive” earlier this year, putting up posters at several universities in Texas.
At Texas A&M, professor Tommy Curry, who white supremacists targeted with death threats earlier this year over comments he made about African Americans’ right to self-defence on a five-year-old podcast, said the attempt to stage White Lives Matter in College Station is “part of an orchestrated tactic by white supremacists across the country”.
“It is not even a coded threat,” he told Al Jazeera, alluding to Wiginton’s decision to announce the rally on the same day as the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
According to Curry’s count, there have been four white supremacist rallies at Texas A&M in recent years. “White supremacy is a narrow, erroneous and ethnonationalist philosophy that should not have a place in a democracy,” he argued.
Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_