A first-year law student at the University of Toledo College of Law is apparently causing concern among some of his fellow students — not because of anything he has done on campus, but because of his past.
Before he was a 1L at the University of Toledo College of Law, Kyle Bristow was the chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom student chapter at Michigan State University. During his leadership, the MSU-YAF chapter became the first student organization designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A 2007 report by SPLC outlines the alleged actions that triggered the designation:
Acting in collusion with elder white supremacists like [Neo-Nazi Preston Wiginton], and with the financial and logistical support of a major conservative foundation, Bristow and a handful of cronies have roiled their campus and the surrounding community by hosting speakers like [British Holocaust denier Nick] Griffin, issuing vicious homophobic and racist insults, and staging publicity stunts masked as political demonstrations that seem inspired in equal parts by the movie “Animal House” and the Hitler Youth.
“He’s become a divisive force,” former MSU-YAF member Kari Lynn Jaksa, an MSU junior who describes herself as a Republican with strong libertarian leanings, says of Bristow. “Frankly, he’s embarrassing.”
Of course, one man’s hate speech is another man’s conservative belief. It’s no surprise that Bristow feels unfairly persecuted by some of the Toledo law students asking questions about his past….
According to a tipster, students at Toledo only recently learned of their classmate’s past leadership of the controversial student organization:
[Toledo Law students] only recently became aware of Mr. Bristow’s past actions, and there are serious professional responsibility questions that butt right into some serious First Amendment concerns… Many people at UT law are worried about this kid, don’t want the school to be associated with him, etc.
We spoke with Bristow about the concerns raised by some of the Toledo College of Law students. He had this to say to Above the Law:
Pursuant to my lawyer’s advice, this is my official statement for your article: “I refuse to dignify with a response the baseless allegations made against me by various left-wing University of Toledo College of Law students. I am in the process of retaining legal counsel to deal with the defamatory accusations made against me by them.”
Should Bristow’s past associations even matter? He’s no longer the chairman of the MSU-YAF chapter (although a comment that he apparently left on this post about a controversial YAF video game suggests he still keeps himself apprised of YAF activities).
We spoke with the Toledo College of Law Dean for Academic Affairs, Daniel Steinbock. Dean Steinbock stated clearly that the protected speech of Bristow — or any other Toledo Law applicant — would not affect admissions decisions:
We do not make admissions decisions, either positive or negative, based on First Amendment-protected speech.
Remember, Bristow is in a different situation than that of former UVA Law admitted student Marcus Epstein. In that case, Epstein was actually convicted of a crime (which some characterized as a “hate crime”). Here, Bristow was merely the chairman of a so-called “hate group,” as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a private organization.
After we started digging around about Kyle Bristow, the law school decided to communicate directly with its students about the situation. A source reports that the College of Law has taken special note of Bristow in the past 24 hours:
UT law students have been sharing links to Kyle Bristow’s writings on Facebook. Yesterday, Dean Pizzimenti started calling law students into her office to warn them about discussing Kyle Bristow publicly. She had screenshots from their Facebook pages.
We have seen some of the Facebook screenshots in question. In one thread, Bristow seems to praise Bernard Goetz, apparently quoting Goetz’s statements that “[s]ociety is better off without certain people” and that “whether one believes they should be killed or locked up or used for forced slavery — it’s a matter of one’s political point of view.” Another status update explains that Bristow was rooting for Duke in the NCAA tournament because it was the “last white basketball team.”
Toledo’s Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Lee Pizzimenti, sent out this school-wide email today:
I write to remind you that things you publish on the web, including on your facebook page, may be found and can create character and fitness issues for you when you apply to take the bar. In addition, employers increasingly are searching for information, and pictures or text you post may discourage them from hiring you.
I have attached an article describing some cases raising character and fitness issues. I urge you to consider this as you decide what to post. It should be noted that you should not assume because it’s on a private part of your page that it can’t be found.
Lee A. Pizzimenti
Do minority and/or LGBT students have any reason to be worried about their campus safety because of Bristow’s past? Dean Daniel Steinbock sees no cause for concern:
We have no evidence of any conduct presenting a safety issue. If we ever do, we would take action under our student code of conduct, just as we would with any student. For obvious reasons, speech protected under the First Amendment is not subject to discipline or any other sanction.
It looks like Toledo College law students are getting a very practical lesson in free speech during their 1L year.
Black Hats on Campus [Southern Poverty Law Center]