As white nationalist leader Richard Spencer prepares to address a rally at Michigan State University, down the road in Macomb County, racist connections keep piling up.
In celebration of Spencer’s highly controversial appearance, a national right-wing organization had decided to hold two get-togethers, both about 100 miles away — in Macomb County, not in East Lansing. The events were cancelled but what does the choice of locations – Warren and Sterling Heights – say about Macomb’s reputation? Certainly, the bigoted views expressed by the Warren mayor and Sterling Heights’ political candidates may have tainted both cities. According to one news report, Spencer was expected to attend one of the two parties, with an anticipated 100 to 300 people on hand at each.
Second, the leader of the group, the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas (FMI), that had organized the two events is homegrown – he is 31-year-old Kyle Bristow who grew up in Clinton Township, Macomb’s third-largest community. After getting his feet wet as an instigator of far-right politics at Chippewa Valley High School, Bristow became such a destabilizing extremist as an MSU student — engaging in racist and homophobic activities — that he was nearly run out of town by students and fellow conservatives.
Bristow once again got his comeuppance over the weekend, bitterly announcing his resignation from FMI on Saturday due to media reports about his ugly past, the negative publicity surrounding his role in securing a court settlement that allowed the Spencer rally, and his overseeing of preparations for the group’s “conference” events that were slated for Warren and Sterling Heights.
And third, it was revealed over the weekend that the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American fighter pilots of World War II, were forced to cancel an appearance at Warren City Hall due to “disturbing phone calls” aimed at disrupting the gathering. Who was behind this racist move is unknown.
The Macomb Daily reported on Sunday that the Black History Month event in February was cancelled due to the mysterious threatening phone calls. Officials are not commenting on the substance of the threats, but they were enough to convince the Macon-Thomas-West Bloomfield Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen not to show up.
Meanwhile, as a write this, police clad in riot gear are arresting anti-Spencer protesters at the MSU Livestock Pavilion, and fights are breaking out between the demonstrators and neo-Nazi supporters of Spencer’s extremist, alt-right agenda.
And the man largely responsible for making this happen is Bristow. The FMI’s specialty is providing legal services for all sorts of unsavory characters, mostly white supremacists – they prefer to be called white nationalists — who seek to create chaos by spewing their hate in high-profile locations. These incendiary events usually take place on college campuses.
Bristow was infamous at MSU for staging these types of spectacles and I’m sure he was especially pleased in 2017 to defend in court Spencer’s attempt to speak at Bristow’s alma mater. MSU refused and a settlement was worked out that allowed the speech at a far-off campus location while students are away for this year’s spring break.
FMI, which is labeled a hate group by civil rights organizations, is listed as a Macomb County-based entity due to the location of Bristow’s Clinton Township law office. They call themselves the “sword and shield” of the white nationalist, alt-right movement. After all, Spencer is one of their board members.
Bristow may not be well known in Macomb County but he is a recognized name in certain circles across the country due to his legal efforts to preserve free-speech rights for rogue elements of the extreme right. Prior to his resignation from FMI, Bristow mused that he wants to run for judge, presumably in Macomb County, and said that he has a “good shot” because Michigan is “Trump country.”
So: we have the FMI and Bristow links to the Spencer rally; the pre- and post-event parties planned in Warren and Sterling Heights; and the threats made against the Tuskegee Airmen.
Macomb County officials can try to live with that. Or they can start working fast to live it down.
Photo: Twitter/ Spencer, left, and Bristow