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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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The criminal case against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), who is accused of attempting to blackmail a woman with whom he had an affair, has taken a turn for the bizarre.

Greitens’ attorneys claimed in a Sunday court filing that the woman testified that she may have only dreamed up or imagined the core allegation of the felony charge: that in 2015, the governor took a nonconsensual photograph of her after tying her up and partially undressing her, with the intent to transmit it.

But on Monday night, the woman’s lawyer struck back, accusing Greitens’ team of mischaracterizing his client’s nine-hour testimony. Greitens admitted to the woman “on multiple occasions” that he took the photo without her permission and threatened to release it, attorney Scott Simpson said in a statement provided to TPM.

Greitens, who took office in 2017, has said he engaged in the extramarital affair, but has denied that he took the photo or sought to silence his former lover.

The latest drama stems from the woman’s Friday deposition at the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Per the defense’s Sunday motion, she testified that she could not say under oath that she saw Greitens held up a phone.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m remembering it through a dream or I — I’m not sure, but yes, I feel like I saw it after it happened, but I haven’t spoken about it because of that,” the woman said, according to the filing.

The defense accused St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who is prosecuting the case, of neglecting to turn over previous, similar statements the woman had made.

In response, Simpson, the woman’s lawyer, called for the release of the complete transcript of her testimony.

“Gov. Greitens needs to take responsibility for his actions and be honest about the fact that he took my client’s photograph without her consent,” Simpson continued, accusing Greitens of attempting to “try this case in the media.”

Gardner’s office had a similar response on Monday, accusing the defense of filing “frivolous motions” and playing “political games” in order to “deflect public attention from other matters facing the Governor,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

This messy state of affairs has clouded the governor’s brief tenure in office, prompting calls for his impeachment and a GOP-led state House investigation into the allegations against him. The committee conducting the probe is set to release its preliminary findings this week, and to recommend action once the investigation concludes on May 18. The governor’s felony trial is slated to start four days earlier.

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A University of Alabama student group that invited white nationalist Jared Taylor to campus insists it just wants to ensure “all social and political views, regardless of how offensive they may appear to the general public” are presented to the student body.

Students for America First (SFAF) “neither endorses nor condemns Mr. Taylor’s work,” the group said in a statement about the April 19 event.

SFAF has not taken the same steps to distance itself from another controversial figure: openly anti-Semitic Wisconsin GOP candidate Paul Nehlen. The group’s social media feeds are full of messages promoting the politician, whom SFAF endorsed.

The ongoing support for Nehlen is striking, given that he was excommunicated by most of the far-right earlier this year. Breitbart News cut ties, calling his increasingly offensive tweets proof that Nehlen had “gone off the deep end.” Nehlen responded by going on the radio show of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and calling his expulsion proof that “Jews control the media.” The “pro-white” Republican, who neo-Nazi figurehead Andrew Anglin deemed “the leader of the American Nationalist movement,” was also permanently banned from Twitter in February for repeatedly violating the terms of services with his inflammatory posts.

This has not stopped SFAF from advocating for Nehlen, who the group called one of “our own people” in a recent post on Gab, a Twitter alternative popular among the loose amalgamation of white nationalists, anti-Semites and trolls that compose the alt-right. (Nehlen has been banned from Gab, too).

SFAF even invited Nehlen to campus for an event originally slated to take place this week. In promotional material, the group benignly referred to him as a “self-made entrepreneur, Fortune 500 CEO, inventor, citizen legislator and future Representative from Wisconsin.” An online listing for Nehlen’s speech on the University of Alabama’s site said it had been cancelled.

Other messages on SFAF’s Gab and Twitter feeds play on themes popular among the alt-right. The group shared a message alleging that white people are going to be drugged and brainwashed into “accepting ‘ethnic diversity.’” A number of posts reference the demise of “Western civilization” thanks to undocumented immigration.

SFAF did not respond to a list of questions provided by TPM. After Jared Taylor’s invitation was announced, the group sent over a 300-word statement asserting its commitment to preserving the First Amendment by hosting individuals with “‘controversial’ views.” The statement referred to Taylor, who is known for promoting the idea that black and Hispanics are genetically inferior, as a “noted Right-wing intellectual” who “we look forward” to hosting.

The group’s invitation has been roundly condemned by the school administration and other campus organizations.

University of Alabama president Stuart Bell called Taylor’s ideology “counter to our institutional values,” while the school’s NAACP chapter said that SFAF’s right to free speech doesn’t mean that the group should endorse “bigotry and racism.”

“We look to our administrators to protect the inclusivity, safety, and well being of minority students,” the group said in a tweet. “White supremacy is a dangerous and hurtful voice to give power to.”

The university’s College Republicans chapter sent TPM a statement calling Taylor’s views “disgusting.”

“We are infuriated that any student organization would bring him to our university,” the organization said.

SFAF acknowledged that their own faculty advisor, statistics professor Bruce Barrett, stepped down from his post over the invitation, acknowledging in a tweet that “he was not fully informed of Jared Taylor’s polarizing statements on race and identity.”

Barrett did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Many of SFAF’s public statements simply affirm the Trump administration’s positions on building a southern border wall and forcibly expelling undocumented immigrants, and the group is hardly the first to invite an open white nationalist to speak on campus. Taylor has made “the case for white identity” to students at Michigan State University and Towson University.

Alt-right figureheads like Richard Spencer, who recently abandoned his own college tour, and Identity Europe have explicitly advocated for reaching out to young students as a means of recruiting and indoctrinating them early on. Groups like SFAF, in turn, frame inviting speakers like Taylor as a way of pushing the envelope and rejecting “politically correct” culture.

As Brian Levin, director of California State University’s center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, put it: “We’re a splintered society and trust in the institutions that held us together, like academia, have hit multi-decade lows. One of the ways we can be anti-elitist and anti-establishment is to invite someone from the outside. And that’s part of the marketing that’s been done: you’re not hearing the full story, so invite this controversial speaker.”

“It’s a very brazen, in-your-face, mainstreamed white nationalism,” Levin continued. “This invitation is just another star in that constellation, saying white nationalism is now in that night sky of sociopolitical activity in the United States. And that’s scary.”

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A busy week brought the first jail sentence to emerge from the Trump-Russia probe. Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan was ordered to spend 30 days in jail and pay $20,000 for lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about conversations he had with Rick Gates, a relatively stiff sentence given that prosecutors weren’t specifically recommending prison time.

We learned that the President is currently a “subject” but not a criminal “target” in the investigation — an assessment that could easily change. Significantly, Mueller told Trump’s legal team that he is preparing a report on the President’s actions in office and possible obstruction of justice.

The probe into Paul Manafort appears quite active months after his indictments in two federal courts. Prosecutors revealed that they issued subpoenas this spring to obtain phone records linked to Manafort and related to “ongoing investigations.” Their list of warrants shows they seized bank accounts from three different financial institutions.

Mueller’s team also disclosed that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein explicitly authorized them to investigate whether Manafort colluded with Russian government officials while working with Ukrainian politicians. Notably, the Rosenstein memo included a redacted list of other individuals and matters Mueller is specifically tasked with examining. This memo undercut Manafort’s claim that Mueller had overstepped in prosecuting him. Separately, The Guardian surfaced details about Manafort’s work in the U.S. on behalf of Ukraine’s Russia-aligned former president, Victor Yanukovich, including a “black ops” PR campaign between 2011 and 2013 denigrating Yanukovich’s opponents.

Mueller’s investigators reportedly questioned an unnamed Trump Organization associate involved in overseas deals, showing up at his home with subpoenas for electronic records and sworn testimony. Many of their questions focused on Michael Cohen. Former Trump business partner Felix Sater, meanwhile, was interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

CNN reported Mueller’s investigators have detained and searched Russian oligarchs as they transited through the US, questioning them and scanning their electronic devices. These all signal active examination of potential collusion or illicit financing of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Separately, the New York Times reported that George Nader, a UAE royal family adviser who arranged a meeting between Eric Prince and a Putin-linked Russian financier, has longstanding ties to Russia and Putin’s inner circle. 

We learned this week that, on the same day in August 2016 that Roger Stone told InfoWars that “devastating” disclosures about the Clinton Foundation were forthcoming, he emailed former campaign advisor Sam Nunberg saying he’d dined with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Stone told TPM that the email was a joke, but the special counsel is probing the exchange.

At the end of the week, the U.S. slapped sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials, including banker Alexander Torshin, who the FBI is reportedly investigating for illegally funneling funds to the NRA to help Trump.

In a speech, outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the U.S. had “failed to impose sufficient costs” on Russia. Trump, meanwhile, claimed that “nobody’s been tougher on Russia” than him.

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A key figure was included on the Treasury Department’s newly released list of Russian individuals facing U.S. sanctions: Russian banker and lifetime National Rifle Association member Aleksandr Torshin.

Torshin, deputy governor of the state-owned central bank, is reportedly under FBI investigation for illegally funneling donations to the NRA to support Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

He is among the seven Russian oligarchs, 12 Russian companies and 17 senior Russian government officials hit with sanctions.

Per the Treasury Department’s release, those individuals and entities’ U.S. assets are now frozen, they cannot travel to the U.S. and “U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealings with them.”

Torshin has for years cultivated a close relationship with NRA leadership, attending the gun group’s annual conventions and hosting their delegations in Moscow. He unsuccessfully tried to leverage those NRA connections to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign.

The NRA has acknowledged receiving a donation of less than $1,000 from Torshin for his lifetime membership. The gun group insists it never used foreign contributions for election-related activities, and did not respond to TPM’s inquiries about whether it received additional donations from Torshin or other Russian individuals.

Democrats celebrated the imposition of sanctions.

“By isolating Putin’s regime and financially punishing his support base among the oligarchs, we may be able to induce a change in Moscow’s behavior,” Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement, saying the sanctions of individuals like Torshin “will send a strong message to the Kremlin.”

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The handful of states under Democratic control in the Trump era are going all-in. As I reported today, in the bluest states, legislators are pushing big-ticket progressive legislation with a clear focus: increasing access to the ballot.

Democrats, after all, can’t push back against Republican policy priorities if they can’t vote, or if their votes don’t count.

Washington state, whose state government was shifted fully within Democratic control thanks to a state Senate special election victory last November, is the best example. The state’s “Access to Democracy” package of legislation included such measures as same-day registration, pre-registration of 16 and 17-year-olds, enhanced campaign finance disclosure requirements, and, most critically, automatic voter registration (AVR).

Through AVR, anyone who obtains a driver’s license or state ID from the DMV will automatically be eligible to vote. Research by New York University’s Brennan Center has found that AVR “boosts registration rates, cleans up the rolls, makes voting more convenient, and reduces the potential for voter fraud, all while lowering costs.”

The impact of this legislation is expected to be immediately felt. Activists estimate that nearly a million eligible Washington state voters aren’t registered. Washington state Senate President Karen Keiser (D) told me the package will be “tremendous in terms of turnout and participation in our elections.”

Progressive activist and writer Sean McElwee credited grassroots activism for the push towards securing these sort of laws.

“It’s not happening executively,” he stressed, pointing to a survey he conducted that found voting rights to be “the single most popular issue” among Democrats’ active base. “What we’re seeing across the country is progressive activists getting this stuff on the ballot.”

AVR may soon be coming to a state near you. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have already approved it, and 19 states introduced AVR proposals in 2018.

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In the year and a half since President Donald Trump’s victory, progressives have sprung into action at the state level, scoring a string of special election victories and triggering widespread expectations of a blue wave—or even a tsunami—in the 2018 midterms.

In some blue pockets of the country, we’re already seeing what that wave could yield.

Washington state has passed some 300 bills since securing full Democratic control of the legislature in a special election last November. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has signed many of those into law, including a voting rights package that includes same-day registration and pre-registration for teenagers. Meanwhile, New Jersey, which attained trifecta Democratic control of the statehouse and governor’s mansion after Democrat Phil Murphy succeeded Chris Christie, is poised to enact the nation’s most sweeping equal pay legislation.

Still, Republicans maintain an overwhelming advantage at the state level. They have trifecta control in 26 states compared to just eight for Democrats, with significant supermajorities in many of those legislatures. The focus for most national progressive groups this year is simply chipping away at those numbers and, where they can, flipping chambers or governorships to break the GOP’s hold.

Automatic voter registration is the dream for blue states in the Trump era. Read a reporter’s notebook from Allegra Kirkland on this topic »

But the undeniable momentum on the Democratic side has activists and lawmakers dreaming of more than just reversing Republican policies. In blue strongholds, progressives are using this moment to pass legislation they’ve long wanted and create bulwarks against Trump administration policies.

Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, called Washington’s 60-day session “historically incredible” and vowed that Democrats would continue to “raise hell” on voting rights and other core progressive issues wherever possible.

“I think for us it showed what can happen when we flip a Dem chamber,” Post told TPM in a phone interview. “They went into session in 2018 banning bump stocks, banning LGBT conversion therapy. There’s so much progress that can be made in the states when you flip these chambers—and fast.”

Karen Keiser, Washington state Senate President Pro Tempore, agreed that “the Senate’s hair was on fire this year.” State Senate Democrats spent the five years they were “shut out in the minority” perfecting key pieces of legislation, and, as soon as the chamber flipped, “decided we were going to go for the gold and get it done” on issues from equal pay to net neutrality to sexual harassment.

Like the Democratic attorneys general who pledged to fight against Trump’s agenda after his election, Keiser sees it as the responsibility of states like Washington to work in conjunction with likeminded legislatures to “protect our citizens from the deconstruction of the federal system of standards.”

With Trump ally Christie out of office, New Jersey has taken steps to do so, joining other legislatures in a multi-state program to counter the Trump EPA’s decision to weaken rules reducing carbon pollution from cars. Though power struggles between Gov. Phil Murphy and senate leadership have reportedly impeded the sort of wholesale reforms seen in Washington, the Garden State has vastly expanded the state’s medical marijuana program, will soon enact stringent protections against pay discrimination, and is moving forward with a slew of bills to firm up the state’s already-strict gun laws.

New York appears to be next in line. Democrats are expected to prevail in special elections scheduled for the end of April, securing trifecta control by winning a majority in the state Senate. The DLCC’s Jessica Post is hopeful that the end of a power-sharing agreement between state Republicans and the breakaway faction of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), who caucused with them, will allow truly progressive legislation to be enacted.

Activist, journalist and No IDC New York steering committee member Sean McElwee told TPM he was skeptical of the “turncoat” IDC legislators and is still backing primary challengers to unseat them. But he feels “confident” that Democrats will take control of the Senate, and that same-day and automatic voter registration will be at the top of lawmakers’ priority list once they do.

“You’re going to see, in every state where Democrats gain, these major pushes for voting rights,” McElwee said, noting the work of grassroots activists on this issue. “That’s something that can really only be won at the state level.”

This true-blue push in certain states is far from the norm. As Ben Wexler-Waite, communications director for Democratic super PAC Forward Majority, pointed out, the majority of resources and funds from national groups is going toward simply making “significant inroads on the overwhelming Republican control of state legislatures,” where Democrats “just have so much ground to make up.”

But the Republican State Leadership Committee, which did not respond to TPM’s request for comment, has signaled alarm about the “elevated threat level” in places like Washington and Virginia.

“We must be prepared for the Democrats’ enhanced organization and spending abilities,” RSLC President Matt Walker said in a November 2017 statement after Democrats won big in those states.

The DLCC’s Post said that it’s possible to imagine trifecta Democratic control in states like Colorado, Maine and New Hampshire. Even New Mexico and, eventually, Minnesota and Virginia, could be in play, she said.

The midterms are unlikely to see a mass consolidation of Democratic power. But in the places where they’re able, expect them to dig in.

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Twice this spring, lawmakers in the Tennessee Assembly have tried to promote resolutions condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Both times those efforts have failed.

The second attempt was abandoned just this week, after a Republican lawmaker unsuccessfully tried to alter the motion’s language to make it more palatable to his caucus.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Ryan Williams’ resolution reworked one put forth by Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons, which died in mid-March after the three Republican members of a House subcommittee declined to offer motions to discuss it.

At the time, State Government Subcommittee member Rep. Bob Ramsey (R) told TPM that his panel supported the “intent and philosophy” of the measure but had concerns about language asking law enforcement to consider the groups “domestic terrorist organizations.” Such requests may “seem simple” but have sparked tense debate among lawmakers, Ramsey told TPM.

Williams stripped that language from a second version of the resolution introduced last week that was otherwise nearly identical.

But on Monday night, the day it was set to go before the Delayed Bills Committee, Williams asked that the measure be withdrawn from consideration. Williams told the Tennessean he’d received “additional feedback” from his fellow Republicans that needed to be incorporated into the resolution, which was “too narrow.”

Williams did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for additional information on their outstanding concerns, but told the Tennessean he was committed to hammering out wording acceptable to all parties.

If passed, the resolution would require the House to “strongly denounce and oppose” the racist, violent bigotry of these groups, and to send a copy to President Donald Trump, Congress, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, according to the Tennessean.

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All eyes will be on Wisconsin Tuesday, where a typically lackluster state Supreme Court election has blossomed into an object of national curiosity.

A win for Rebecca Dallet, a Democrat endorsed by big names like former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Vice President Joe Biden, would be interpreted as further evidence of building progressive momentum in the state. A victory for Republican Michael Screnock, meanwhile, would prompt a sigh of relief from Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the GOP-controlled legislature.

Both sides desperately want to secure the 10-year seat on the ostensibly non-partisan, powerful court. Conservatives hope to maintain their current 5-2 advantage, while Democrats hope to nudge the balance down to 4-3, giving them more of a voice.

Stakes are particularly high thanks to Democrats’ surprise win in a January special state Senate election, and Walker’s failed effort to block two other special election races from taking place.

This national attention has prompted predictable attacks from both sides.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party has lashed out at Screnock as a tool of Walker’s GOP, criticizing his endorsement by the National Rifle Association and the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’s received from “right-wing special interest groups and the Republican Party.”

Republicans have highlighted the endorsement and donations from Holder’s redistricting group as evidence that Washington, D.C. interests are trying to interfere in Wisconsin’s affairs.

Brandon Scholz, a longtime GOP consultant based in Madison, told TPM in a recent interview that Holder was just trying to “gain a little notoriety” and “get a higher profile in Wisconsin” by involving himself in the race.

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This week, we got yet another indication that the President has tried to intervene in and change the outcome of the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. The New York Times reported that last year, while the special counsel’s team was building its case against Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, then-Trump attorney John Dowd reached out to both men with promises of a presidential pardon. The timing suggests Trump’s team was trying to influence their decision on how to plead.

Following Dowd’s exit, Trump’s legal team remains ensnared in chaos. The President has reached out to a number of big-name D.C. attorneys to try to fill the void created by Dowd’s departure, but they’ve turned him down either because they’re uninterested in retaining such an unmanageable client or because they have conflicts of interest.

Without new additions to Trump’s legal team, Andrew Ekomonou has been elevated to a lead role. In addition to his legal work, Ekomonou is a medieval historian who, Josh Marshall reported, built his practice by seizing assets from mini-marts and now mostly works on murder prosecutions on contract for a Georgia district attorney.

Meanwhile, Bob Mueller appears to be drilling into some key events from the 2016 campaign. In a court filing this week, he alleged that cooperating Trump associate Rick Gates knowingly communicated with a former Russian intelligence officer while he was working for the Trump campaign. Mueller has also been questioning witnesses, including Carter Page, about Russia-related events at that year’s Republican National Convention, including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’ meeting with Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S. and changes to the GOP platform to soften language supporting Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s military intervention in that country.

Also this week, Sessions announced he is turning down congressional Republicans’ request for a second special counsel to probe alleged anti-Trump bias among the agents handling the FBI’s Russia probe.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign’s data firm, has remained in the headlines, keeping the pressure on Facebook. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly planning to testify before Congress about the company’s privacy practices following reports that Cambridge Analytica improperly used the social media giant’s data to try to influence elections.

The NRA acknowledged for the first time this week that it accepts donations from foreign entities — including one from Russian banker and reported FBI target Aleksandr Torshin. It claims to never have received foreign money in connection with a U.S. election.

And a simmering diplomatic crisis continues. Two dozen countries, including the U.S., expelled Russian diplomats this week in a show of solidarity with Britain, where an ex-Russian spy and his daughter were recently poisoned. Russia said it would retaliate by ousting an equivalent number of diplomats from each of those nations.

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A student group at the University of Alabama’s flagship campus has invited prominent white nationalist Jared Taylor to campus to give a speech about diversity.

“They’ve asked me to talk about whether diversity is a strength,” Taylor, publisher of long-running white nationalist publication American Renaissance, told TPM in a Friday morning phone call. “I think you can imagine the position I will take on that question.”

Taylor has publicly promoted his views on the genetic inferiority of black and Hispanic people for some three decades. Recent headlines under his byline on the American Renaissance site include “How To Achieve Racial Separation” and “Send Them Home,” a reference to undocumented immigrants.

“I assume they have researched me and have some idea of who I am,” Taylor said.

The invitation to speak on April 19 came from Students for America First, an organization that claims to be dedicated to “dealing with the challenges American and Western ideals face in our country.” The group’s red logo features the hissing rattlesnake of the Gadsden Flag—an image that gained popularity with the tea party movement.

In a statement provided to TPM on Saturday by Lincoln Egbert, America First’s vice president, the group described Taylor as “a noted Right-wing intellectual and editor of American Renaissance.”

“SFAF neither endorses nor condemns Mr. Taylor’s work: our sole motivation in deciding to host him is to ensure that all social and political views, regardless of how offensive they may appear to the generic public are accounted for in the free marketplace of ideas that ought to exist on the university campus,” the statement reads.

“We believe that [it] is our right as Americans to decide for ourselves what ideas are right and which wrong, not to have that decision made for us by the media and our universities,” it continues, adding that the members “look forward” to hosting Taylor.

University president Stuart Bell has condemned the invitation in a public statement, emphasizing that Taylor’s ideology “is counter to our institutional values” and that “hate and bigotry have no place” at the school. Bell said that as a public institution with a “commitment to free speech,” the university cannot prevent the event from taking place.

Taylor’s visit threatens to reignite an ongoing debate about hosting white nationalist speakers on college campuses. The difficulty of preemptively proving that a speaker poses a violent threat and the strong First Amendment protections in public spaces like state school campuses makes it hard for schools to stop such events from happening.

A handful of universities were sued by the graduate student who booked white nationalist Richard Spencer’s college tour after they refused to let Spencer speak, citing concerns about violence and disruption to campus life. Spencer recently quit the tour, saying the events were no longer “fun” because they were often derailed by large counter-protests by anti-racist activists.

Taylor, who is less prone to courting the media than Spencer, acknowledged that such mass protests were possible at his upcoming event.

“Anyone who speaks as a white person in the name of the legitimate interest of whites is going to attract an enormous amount of opposition,” he claimed.

Bell said in his message to the student body that “other events and activities are in the planning stages” but did not elaborate on what they entailed.

This post has been updated to include comment from Students for America First.

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