AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — 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 and released the following statement:
“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.”
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.
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.”
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)