March 5, 2018 / 10:10 PM / 12 days ago

UPDATE 1-Fights erupt ahead of white nationalist's speech in Michigan

(Adds comment from protester, police forming skirmish line)

By Steve Friess

EAST LANSING, Mich, March 5 (Reuters) - At least half a dozen people were arrested on Monday after supporters of Richard Spencer clashed with protesters outside a Michigan college campus where the white nationalist was scheduled to speak.

Fights broke out on a road leading to Michigan State University in East Lansing as several dozen backers of Spencer walked up a road leading to the campus, where several hundred demonstrators had gathered, surrounding an armored police vehicle.

Police in riot gear quickly stepped in to break up the altercation, handcuffing six or seven people, then forming a skirmish line along the roadside to prevent further clashes.

It was not immediately clear if Spencer was already on the campus or if the speech would go forward as planned. Media representatives for the university could not immediately be reached for comment.

“These people are scum. We chased them away. This is our free speech being exercised,” said David Sherman, 25, who drove to the campus from Indianapolis to protest Spencer’s event.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors U.S. hate groups, lists Spencer as “a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America.”

An outspoken supporter of Trump during the 2016 campaign, Spencer rose from relative obscurity after widely circulated videos showed some Trump supporters giving Nazi-style salutes to Spencer during a gathering in Washington to celebrate the Republican candidate’s win. Trump condemned the meeting.

In October, protests broke out as Spencer gave a speech at the University of Florida in Gainsville.

Two months earlier, a 20-year-old man said by law enforcement to harbor Nazi sympathies drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters after white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a 32-year-old woman. (Reporting by Steve Friess in East Lansing, Mich.; writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas)

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