KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The University of Tennessee is ramping up security ahead of a white nationalist speaker’s event scheduled for Tuesday.
Rick Tyler, a Polk County man who ran for the House of Representatives in 2016 and gained national attention for billboards that read, “Make America White Again,” is renting space on campus for an event he calls “White Nationalism: Fact or Fiction.”
In a flyer, Tyler says he is running for president in 2020 as a candidate for the American Freedom Party. He claims his address will “shatter enduring myths that proliferate in contemporary America.”
The event is scheduled from 6-10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28, in Alumni Memorial Building. The university stresses that Tyler is not affiliated with any campus group and was not invited to campus.
UT allows non-affiliated people and organizations to rent space on campus. Under federal law, the university cannot base decisions about who can rent its facilities based on a person or group’s viewpoints.
UT Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis said in a statement the university is against white nationalism but supports free speech at the same time.
“I want to be clear: white nationalism is contrary to our values as a university—racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry should have no place on Rocky Top. We care about our staff, faculty, and students. We aspire to create an environment free of hate, prejudice, and bigotry. No one renting space on our campus will stop us from pursuing that aspiration,” he said.
The UT Police Department is preparing for the event. No classes are scheduled during the event and Alumni Memorial Building will be closed all day on Tuesday. The Hesler Biology and Nielsen Physics buildings will close at 2 p.m. Essential personnel who need to access those buildings after that time can contact UTPD at (865) 974-3114.
Middle Drive and CIrcle Drive will close at 4 p.m. and Staff Lot 9 will close to incoming traffic at that time. Staff who park in those areas can leave at 4 p.m. or park in the White Avenue garage without being ticketed.
A demonstration area will be staged on the Gate 21 Plaza where the campus clear bag policy will be in effect.