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British politician's talk creates uproar

British National Party chairman Nick Griffin crossed the pond, but it wasn't all smooth sailing. Tempers erupted Friday at Michigan State University during Griffin's speech, which was organized by student group Young Americans for Freedom...
By
  • Lindsay Guentzel
October 29, 2007

British National Party chairman Nick Griffin crossed the pond, but it wasn't all smooth sailing.

Tempers erupted Friday at Michigan State University during Griffin's speech, which was organized by student group Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative youth organization.

University philosophy senior Seth Rompelman learned about the event through Facebook. He said he contacted Michigan State about Griffin's speech because he was worried about safety issues.

"Nick Griffin has a long history of promoting openly racist, fascist politics," Rompelman said. "He has been charged with inciting racial hatred and violence in England."

In March, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups and promotes tolerance, designated the student organization as a hate group.

The speech was intended for Griffin to address the overpopulation of Islamists in Europe, but turned into a question-and-answer session, he said.

"I couldn't really make my speech," Griffin said. "There was a fanatically hostile group of protesters."

Griffin recently spoke at Clemson University and Texas A&M University, where he said the audience was receptive to his message.

He said the speech at Michigan State, however, was heated.

Jon Stonehouse, a Western Michigan University student, said there was a clear division between Griffin's supporters and protesters.

"You could feel the tension the moment you walked in," Stonehouse said. "It was like the 'West Side Story.' "

Michael Stein, a Michigan State student who attended the event, agreed with Stonehouse.

"It should have been moderated," Stein said.

Michigan State student Andrea Norton said Griffin focused on radical Islam in extreme cases.

"I thought it would be kind of interesting to see these radically different views from my own," Norton said.

Stein said while he didn't agree with all of Griffin's comments, he would be concerned if Griffin wasn't allowed to speak.

"College campuses are all about getting to know the other side," he said. "It's all about free speech."

Griffin also said he thought it was "a very naïve and juvenile position" for people to feel he shouldn't be allowed to speak on college campuses.

It is important for all people to be able to speak at colleges, where "young people come with open minds," he said.

A fire alarm in the Veterans Medical Building, where the speech was being held, was pulled during Griffin's speech.

Terry Denbow, the vice president of University Relations at Michigan State, said aside from the fire alarm being pulled, the logistics of the event went smoothly.

"I thought the behaviors were appropriate for a heated discussion," Denbow said.

Denbow also said it is important for colleges to be open-minded, yet have a structured plan when approving guest speakers.

"The presence of someone doesn't necessarily indicate that something bad or good is going to happen," Denbow said.

After the event, a confrontation between protesters and supporters occurred outside the building, Stonehouse said.

"We heard someone scream 'Run, they're coming,' " Stonehouse said. "And you just see this big mob of protesters coming at you."

Griffin said he has been invited to speak at many British universities.

"So far, every single one of those invitations have been withdrawn," he said. "The only place I can speak at a university is in America."

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