In a lawsuit and a spate of recent profiles, the Georgia State University student managing white nationalist Richard Spencer’s college campus tour has been characterized as a fresh-faced free speech advocate who wants to see visiting speakers of all persuasions treated equally. Cameron Padgett most recently made headlines for teaming up with self-proclaimed “alt-right lawyer” Kyle Bristow to sue Michigan State University for refusing to allow Spencer to come give a talk on the East Lansing campus.
In TPM’s initial conversations with the Georgia native, who first gained national attention for his successful April lawsuit that compelled Auburn University to allow Spencer to speak there, he described himself simply as a libertarian “senior in college.” His relative youth was also emphasized in a press release Bristow sent about the Michigan State case on Sept. 3 and in the complaint, which described Padgett as a “law-abiding 23-year-old senior at Georgia State University” and “23-year-old senior at Georgia State University who subscribes to identitarian philosophy,” respectively.
Spencer himself told TPM it was useful to have a current college student making speaking requests to schools on his behalf.
But there is one odd inconsistency in how Padgett’s background has been publicly presented: A wealth of local news stories about his high school athletic career indicate he is 29, not 23, as has been reported in the press and as he was described in the original complaint against Michigan State.
Asked about this discrepancy, Padgett told TPM he never intended to mislead anyone about his age.
“All the news articles, I don’t know how they got my age wrong,” he said, calling the mistake “kind of weird.” “They assumed. I don’t know why they did that. They never asked me or anything; they just put that in there. I’m a graduate student at Georgia State and I’m 28.”
In a subsequent text message, Padgett said that he meant to say he was “born in ’88…not that I was 28.”
Padgett said he believed the slip with his age originated with a widely-circulated Associated Press article about the Michigan State suit that stated he was 23. He added that he’d asked Bristow to amend the complaint with the correct information.
Bristow did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for confirmation that the complaint had been amended. A motion for preliminary injunction that Bristow filed on Sept. 10 made no mention of Padgett’s age.
The same local press that placed Padgett in high school in the mid-2000s also reported on a dispute over a referee’s call at one of his brother’s basketball games; a 2009 citation for disorderly conduct provided by the Candler County, Georgia clerk alleged that Padgett refused to leave the premises and was “questioning officers and running his mouth.” Padgett told TPM that officers “falsely arrested him” and that the matter was swiftly resolved outside of court.
Taken together, these details cast a slightly different light on public reports about and descriptions of Padgett.
In a phone conversation this week, Spencer showered praise on Padgett for his work on the Auburn case, referring to him as “a very energetic young man,” a “pragmatic and optimistic young man,” and an “amazing kid.”
“First off Cameron is a student and secondly a lot of this is simply division of labor,” Spencer told TPM when asked why Padgett reaches out to schools to set up speaking gigs rather than doing it himself.
“He is not an employee; he is doing this voluntarily, but we also make it very clear to the university what is happening,” he said. “We aren’t fronting or anything. We say we are going to bring Richard Spencer from the National Policy Institute, that the National Policy Institute will ultimately pay the room rental fee and all that. But Cameron is being that point man. And I do think it’s good that he’s a student as well.”
Georgia State confirmed that Padgett is currently enrolled there. He told TPM he was in his last semester earning a graduate degree as a finance major, and that he got involved on Spencer’s behalf as a “staunch, staunch supporter of the First Amendment” who felt public schools were unfairly discriminating against Spencer for his views on race. Padgett said he received no official title or compensation from NPI, and did not plan on becoming more active in far-right politics after graduation.
Padgett said he used the $29,000 settlement he received from the Auburn case to pay Sam Dickson, his lawyer on that case who has represented members of the Ku Klux Klan in the past, and reimbursed some $3,500 to NPI for the money it spent renting and securing the campus venue for Spencer. He said the remaining money went to a “pro free speech organization,” which he declined to identify.
NPI’s recently-appointed executive director, Evan McLaren, described Padgett as a “volunteer and a friend” who has “really taken the bull by the horns” in sending room rental requests on Spencer’s behalf to schools including the University of Florida, Louisiana State University, Penn State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Ohio State University.
“I think he basically shares Richard’s attitude that it’s an important message, at least one that’s valid enough that it should be heard on campus,” McLaren said, noting that “the public universities are obviously a target.”
Exactly what message Padgett wants promoted isn’t entirely clear. NPI, Bristow and Padgett himself say he’s merely a free speech advocate and doesn’t consider himself part of the loosely-defined mass of white nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists who compose the alt-right.
Unprompted, Padgett told TPM he would “support someone who went up and said all white people are evil and should give money to all the minorities and give their land over.”
However, to date he has only involved himself on campus free speech cases on Spencer’s behalf. Padgett also has cited the far-right politician Pat Buchanan, who called Donald Trump “the great white hope,” as a major influence; has a Twitter feed full of tweets lamenting the plight of white people in America and criticizing the influence of Jews; and told TPM that, though he did not want a “100 percent homogenous white nation,” multiculturalism “just hasn’t worked.”
Intentions aside, First Amendment experts have told TPM that Spencer and Padgett have good odds of succeeding in court. Free speech protections are very strong in public spaces like state school campuses, and court precedent, like at Auburn, has mostly fallen on their side.
Both men said that they’re hoping the Michigan State case will bolster that precedent, prompting other universities to simply give up on blocking Spencer’s appearances.
“We want to get a model that works,” Spencer said.