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Is NV Still The 'Mississippi Of The West'?

Peter Cvjetanovic (right) chants while holding torches at a march organized by neo-Nazi, white supremacist and white nationalist organizations in Charlottesville, Va., on Friday night.
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Peter Cvjetanovic (right) chants while holding torches at a march organized by neo-Nazi, white supremacist and white nationalist organizations in Charlottesville, Va., on Friday night.

The violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend when a “Unite the Right” rally clashed with counter protesters has resonated around the country.

One person, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car rammed into the crowd of counter protesters. Nineteen other people were hurt. An Ohio man who was driving the car was charged.

Nevada was linked to the protest when a man, who became the angry face of the torch-lit rally on Friday night, turned out to be 20-year-old Peter Cvjetanovic, a University of Nevada-Reno student and an avowed white nationalist. 

UNR President Marc Johnson said Tuesday the school "unequivocally rejects the positions and ideology" espoused by the white supremacists. The school also rejected the idea of expelling Cvjetanovic and will not end his employment with the university.

Steve Maples, director of admissions for UNR’s Prospective Students Office, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that the school is venturing into new territory when it comes to the Cvjetanovic manner. But the Constitution and his right to free speech.

“What’s unfortunate for us is people see us defending the right of free speech as somehow accepting that speech,” he said “There is a big difference between defending the right to speak and accepting what’s being said. I think that’s part of the discussion.”

Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, agreed that if someone is not breaking law then the Constitution is on their side.

“The line in that instance would have to be crossed is for the student to break the law,” Story said, “The law protects him. The Constitution protects him to maintain whatever beliefs he might have regardless of how abhorrent we might find them.”

Story said the line is violence. If someone is violent towards another person, that is when constitutionally guaranteed rights end.

“The line that gets crossed is when any of these rallies turn violent or the intent is to commit violence," he said, "We have to allow that market place of ideas to remain so that people can air their differences, the grievances, have a good, fruitful debate and draw the line at violence."

As for UNLV, Rainier Spencer, the vice provost for academic programs with the Office of Diversity, said that the whole campus is a “free speech” area.

He added that universities are places where people should be encouraged to exchange ideas.

“The university is a place where ideas should be discussed and exposed,” Spencer said, “It’s not really a place where you should feel a right to be protected from ideas you don’t like.”

He said some students should be more “thick skinned” and should not feel like they have to be protected from ideas they don’t like.

“Insulation from ideas does not equate to a safe space. It just doesn’t,” Spencer said, “You’ve got to let ideas be expressed because you need to air them. Ideas are like a disease. White supremacy, White nationalism is a disease. The only way to get rid of it is to put it in the air. Let people see what it is, explain it.”

Ender Austin is a youth pastor in Las Vegas. He organized a weekend rally in Las Vegas against the kind of hate groups seen in Charlottesville. He pushed back against Spencer’s belief that allowing all speech – even hate-filled speech -- should be allowed to be aired, especially those who are talking come with guns.

“We already saw what their intention was. It was to intimidate. It was to incite,” Austin said, “When we see that we need to step right in. I don’t think we can wait… I think we have to be very, very cautious when we try to air out ideas. We already saw how that experiment worked.”

Austin said his aim with the rally in Las Vegas was to get the people who don’t always participate to stand up. “I big part of what we were trying to accomplish in Vegas was to wake up folks who think they are already woke."

Ashley Graham helped organize a similar rally in Reno.

“We just had to do something,” she said, “We know that our community is good and just and they showed up.”


Rainier Spencer, vice provost, academic programs with the Office of Diversity, UNLV; Tod Story, ACLU of Nevada; Ender Austi n, faith leader, Las Vegas, organizer of rally in Las Vegas; Steve Maples, director of admissions, UNR's Prospective Students Office; Ashley Graham, founder, Masses Unite, organizer of Reno rally

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.