The national battle over free speech, university campuses, and racist violence ramped up another notch earlier this week, when a young attorney sued Michigan State University for denying a venue to a racist speaker.
The suit filed by Kyle Bristow—on behalf of a University of Georgia student who tried to rent space for a speech by notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer—accused MSU of trampling on the First Amendment and other constitutional rights. Spencer, a key leader of the so-called alt-right, won a similar lawsuit in April, when Auburn University in Alabama was forced to allow him to speak.
MSU is one of five public universities around the country that have made similar decisions in the aftermath of the Aug. 12 racist rampage in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia. Essentially, they are arguing that hosting Spencer—a top agitator in Charlottesville—could ignite more violence.
It’s an open question whether or not that argument will hold up. Normally, public universities can’t discriminate against speakers based on their viewpoints. But many experts believe the universities have a case, especially since Spencer’s talks are seen by extremists as part of a battle that began in Charlottesville. The violence there, featuring pitched street fighting between racists and anti-racists, culminated in a racist attack that left one woman dead and 19 injured.
Which brings us back to Kyle Bristow.
Bristow’s website describes him as “an aggressive, intelligent, and vigilant award-winning attorney.” It lists various citations and details numerous media mentions. And it boasts of his prowess in defending victims of “revenge porn,” women whose nude photos are posted by vengeful former lovers.
I know Kyle Bristow—I tangled with him some years ago when I worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center. And he is not just another attorney, let alone a noble crusader standing up for the dignity of wronged women. He is a hardline racist, active for over a decade, and while his lawsuit aims to separate Spencer from the specter of violence, Bristow has a personal record of glorifying just that.
It began when Bristow was just a freshman.
While a student a MSU, Bristow won an unopposed election to the student government council, where he promulgated a 13-point program including cutting funding for non-heterosexual groups, giving more representation to whites and men on the council than others, and similar proposals—resulting in a landslide student vote to recall him after he refused to recant or resign.
Bristow also took over a small conservative group, the local chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, and turned it into a vicious organization that tried to hold a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day,” led a “straight power” rally featuring signs like “End Faggotry,” held a “Koran desecration contest,” and invited leading racist ideologues like Jared Taylor to give speeches on campus.
In 2010, after starting law school, he took up another activity—writing fiction, which, as it turned out, was his own personal variety of revenge porn.
Bristow’s first novel, self-published that year, was called White Apocalypse, and it was a tediously written tome that claimed that North America was first settled by whites who were then massacred by invading, dark-skinned peoples. More to the point, its hero/narrator described battling the wicked Center for Diversity and Multiculturalism, based in Atlanta and featuring a large legal staff and a list of hate groups — in other words, an obvious stand-in for the SPLC, where I worked for 20 years before leaving in March.
An SPLC colleague, Heidi Beirich, is rendered in the book as ‘Beirman,’ while I’m given the name ‘David Greenberg’ and described as an “oily, curly haired troll.” Bristow then goes on to describe my character’s assassination.
“The supersonic projectile hit the leftist agitator one inch below the eye, and the bullet exited the back of his head nanoseconds later,” Bristow gloats. “Brain, blood, and skull fragments burst forth from what was once Greenberg’s head, and the leftist was blown off both of his feet. Greenberg died instantly, and his last words were, ‘We must destroy the plague that is Western culture.’”
(An aside: White nationalists see anti-racists as hating Western civilization. I’d hate to have to tell Bristow that I’m a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Great Books program, and a committed enthusiast of Western Civ!)
It didn’t end there. In 2015, the Michigan Bar Association took back an honorable mention it had awarded Bristow in a fiction-writing contest, saying that it had missed the fact that his short story was “embedded with racist cues.” The bar was so embarrassed that it actually ended the eight-year-old contest.
In his story, Bristow again fantasized about violence. Entitled “Post-Conviction Relief,” it depicts a lawyer whose daughter has been murdered by a man named Tyrone. After the killer is sentenced, the lawyer visits him in prison under false pretenses and stabs him to death with a sharpened pen.
Also in 2015, Ashley Bristow, in a custody dispute with her husband, wrote an essay about her life with Kyle, saying he regularly fantasized about a coming race war and was obsessed with weapons. She wrote that she decided to leave him after attending a 2014 gathering at which her husband and the others there began singing a foreign-language song that included the words “sieg heil.”
Kyle Bristow will soon be arguing to a federal judge that MSU’s claim of fearing violence is not a basis for denying Spencer a speaking venue, and it is even possible that he will win. But the fact that Bristow himself regularly writes and fantasizes about violence, even if he has no known record of engaging in it, should remind us all exactly what the movement he represents is really all about.