On Thursday, April 19, protestors from Michigan State University (MSU) and the surrounding community disrupted a lecture by Minuteman Project co-founder and current leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Chris Simcox. The protestors managed to delay the lecture by twenty minutes before police cleared the lecture hall, making a series of arrests that targeted Latino activists under the pretext that the “event was cancelled.” However, Simcox was able to continue his talk once the protestors were taken out of the room.
The protests began at 6:00pm with an immigrant rights rally outside of the lecture hall where Simcox was speaking. Several students and members of the community talked about immigration, racism, anti-immigrant attacks, and the threats posed by groups like the Minuteman. Following the rally, the protestors entered the building to attend the lecture hall where Simcox would be speaking. All of those attending the event were required to go through a metal detector and were searched by the campus police. Food and water bottles were not allowed inside, and several MSU students asserted that this was an “unprecedented” security measure for a lecture on a supposedly open campus. Despite initial statements that they would not be permitted, signs were allowed into the building. Once the protestors were in the lecture hall, they easily outnumbered those that came to listen to the lecture and members of Young Americans for Freedom. There were close to 50 protestors compared to about 20 people staffing and attending the lecture.
As soon as members from the Young Americans for Freedom group came up to the podium, protestors began chanting and disrupting the event. Protestors stomped their feet, pounded on chairs, and chanted “You Are, You Are, Racist” while members of Young Americans for Freedom attempted to introduce Simcox. Nothing that the Young Americans for Freedom said could be understood. When Simcox came to the podium, the protestors booed, coordinated more chants, and stood up holding signs reading “From Small Pox to Simcox,” “Who’s the Illegal Alien? Pilgrim,” and other such messages. A group of protestors stood up wearing shirts that spelled out “MURDERER” in near the front of the lecture hall.
Warnings from the campus police to stop disrupting the talk went unheeded, and protestors continued to chant and make noise, while Simcox made a few pitiful attempts to continue talking despite the noise. The campus police eventually brought in more officers and a box of plastic handcuffs and began warning the crowd that those who refused to leave the building would be arrested. The police claimed that the “event was cancelled” and that they were starting to clear the room from the back to the front. At one point, a police officer told a group of people that they were “trying to get him to stop talking” in reference to Simcox and said that Simcox and members from Young Americans for Freedom would also be arrested if they refused to leave. However, it quickly became clear that the police had no intentions to fairly apply the law, as the police targeted only protestors and only Latinos for arrest. Of the five arrests, all were people of color and in many cases, people of color were singled out for arrest even when white students were standing near them and were being equally or more confrontational. Once the protestors were cleared from the room, the MSU police did not do anything to Simcox or those attending the lecture and instead allowed the event to continue.
Following the talk, protestors confronted audience members leaving the lecture and members of MSU’s Young Americans for Freedom. Those who attended to hear Simcox were subjected to lines of people who called them out for supporting a racist, while members of Young Americans for Freedom were followed and taunted by protestors who called them racists. Protestors not only highlighted the fact that Young Americans for Freedom had brought Chris Simcox to MSU, but their continued anti-immigrant racism as exemplified by their “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” activities. As this was going on, Chris Simcox and Kyle Bristow, head of MSU’s Young Americans for Freedom, made an exit through a side entrance to the building in order to avoid the group of protestors. The two climbed into an SUV and sped out of the area, tearing holes in the grass and avoiding the larger mass of protestors.
After Simcox departed, the protestors decided to march towards the campus jail in solidarity with those who were arrested during the lecture. The march, totaling around fifty people and led by a banner that said “No One Is Illegal” in English and Spanish, took the two westbound lanes of a major campus thoroughfare. The spirited march–led by chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets,” “What Do We Want Justice? When Do We Want It? Now,” and “Si Se Peude”–was undisturbed by the campus police and continued without opposition to the jail. Upon arriving at the jail, a few protestors that were released met up with the crowd while the group advanced to the front door demanding the release of those that were arrested. The campus police quickly setup barricades to prevent the group from entering the jail. The protestors then stopped and accused the police of acting in a racist manner, highlighting the fact that the police only arrested Latino activists despite the fact that there were white activists acting with equal or more militancy. The police eventually retreated inside, with activists moving forward and pounding on the windows while chanting “This Ain’t Over” and attaching the “No One Is Illegal” banner to the windows. The demonstration ended with the protestors announcing plans to host a press conference on Friday, April 20th to highlight MSU’s racism shown by the arrests and their allowing a racist to speak on campus.