In recent weeks, journalists have published horrifically disparaging articles about me which contain acerbic, offensive, juvenile, and regrettable statements I mostly made over a decade ago while I was in college and a prominent and staunchly conservative activist, and which juxtaposed these statements with my recent legitimate and meritorious legal advocacy on behalf of people and organizations who espouse political views which happen to be controversial.
The media is not whatsoever justified in vilifying me. Just as I have stood up for the free speech rights of people on the right side of the political spectrum, I have likewise–in my capacity as an attorney–stood up for the rights of people on the left side of the political spectrum. I take my calling as an attorney seriously and have aggressively represented people from all walks of life: which includes homeless people as well as multimillionaires, people of all races, and people of all sexual orientations. You might be surprised to learn that I once was nearly held in contempt of court for repeatedly demanding that a rural judge from a conservative jurisdiction refer to my client–who was transsexual–on the record by their assigned gender rather than by their biological gender; you might also be surprised to learn that I served as the president of my high school’s international club while I was a junior and senior and that when I travel internationally, I try my best to speak the local language (albeit poorly)–which I only point out to show that I have respect for cultures and human dignity and that there is a side to the story which the media is not telling.
The people who know me best—my friends and family, my current and former clients, former employers, and lawyers and judges with whom I regularly deal—know me as a passionate defender of the law and an aggressive advocate of my clients’ rights. Whether I am demanding the dismissal of an unconstitutional criminal charge against a homeless client who merely held up a sign to request food near a busy street intersection, or I am repeatedly demanding that a rural judge refer to a transsexual client by their assigned gender, or I am providing pro bono legal assistance to poor people who happen to be down on their luck, I do my job and do it as well as I can
In light of the recent relentless and unjustifiable vilification of me, as well as the mischaracterizations of who I am as a person, I have unilaterally made the decision to provide this clarification and to withdraw from politics. Yesterday, an attorney substituted in for me so as to continue representing Cameron Padgett for his federal lawsuits against the University of Cincinnati and the Ohio State University, and today I deleted my private Twitter profile and now am announcing that I will no longer serve in any capacity with the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, Inc.–which was founded by a number of licensed attorneys and me in 2016 so as to promote the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. I will not be in attendance at the upcoming Michigan State University event–which will happen as a result of the recent successful and high-profile lawsuit I filed on behalf of my client–, nor will I attend FMI’s upcoming Detroit conference where attendees will merely dine on appetizers and drink beverages from an open bar as they mingle. FMI will be transferred to the control of someone else to manage so its mission can be advanced, or else it will be dissolved.
In closing, I wish to relay that I abhor violence—of which I have never engaged and have always disavowed—, I regret having previously used language which is needlessly offensive, the characterizations made of me by the media are inaccurate, and I salute everyone who stands up for the rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution—no matter who is exercising those rights.
Although the media’s vilification of me prompted this statement, I nevertheless believe it is the morally right decision to make as I move forward in life.
The metro Detroit alt-right legal advocate who cleared the way for Richard Spencer to speak at Michigan State University says he’s withdrawing from politics following news stories that highlighted racist statements he’s made over the years.
Kyle Bristow, the executive director of the Foundation for the Market Place of Ideas, announced he would resign from the role in a statement posted to the FMI website Saturday. The Clinton Township-based group is to host an alt-right conference featuring Spencer, Cameron Padgett, and other white nationalists at a secret location in metro Detroit on Sunday, the eve of Spencer’s visit to MSU.
“The media is not whatsoever justified in vilifying me,” Bristow says in the letter. “Just as I have stood up for the free speech rights of people on the right side of the political spectrum, I have likewise — in my capacity as an attorney — stood up for the rights of people on the left side of the political spectrum.”
Bristow, 31, also downplayed his racist behavior over the years, saying that much of it occurred a decade ago when he was still in college at MSU. It was there that he served as the head of a chapter of an alleged hate group and organized a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Up until recently, however, Bristow was posting racist epithets to Twitter. Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character the alt-right has adopted to denote anti-Semitism, was a mainstay on his feed. He also recently posted a video that suggested Mexicans who attempt to illegally cross into the U.S. be electrocuted.
“I wish to relay that I abhor violence — of which I have never engaged and have always disavowed,” Bristow says in the letter.
He deleted his Twitter account prior to issuing the statement.
Bristow says he will take further steps to disassociate from the alt-right. According to the letter, he will no longer represent Cameron Padgett, a Richard Spencer-sympathizer who has booked Spencer’s visits to college campuses around the country. Padgett has brought federal suits against the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University.
For years, Kyle Bristow has fought for racism, homophobia and the First Amendment.
It was Bristow, a 31-year-old attorney from Macomb County, who stepped in when Michigan State University rejected a request last summer from white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to speak on campus. Bristow successfully sued MSU, forcing a settlement that led the way to Spencer’s planned speech on Monday at the East Lansing school.
A decade earlier, as an undergraduate student on the same campus, Bristow argued that minority groups shouldn’t be automatically represented in student government, pushed for a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” and led America’s first college-student organization to be listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Macomb County native now leads an organization describing itself as the “sword and shield” of the white nationalist, so-called alt-right movement. The Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, founded in March 2016 and based in Clinton Township, is 100% white and male, according to Guidestar, a nonprofit database.
Despite the group’s seemingly innocuous name, the ideas promoted by the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas are far from mundane. Members see multiculturalism as a plague on the U.S., believe in separation of the races and dream of white ethno-states. One board member once proposed banning anyone from permanently living in the U.S. with any trace of African blood in them.
Bristow describes the organization as an American Civil Liberties Union for the right wing — having helped dozens of people nationwide with legal matters, from criminal defense to civil litigation and more.
When universities or towns throw up barriers to hosting “alt-right” events, Bristow goes to work, using the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech as his central legal weapon. The college towns are an important part of the movement, which is taking direct aim at young, white, middle-class men in its recruitment efforts…
“As the U.S. continues to decline in power, prestige, and prosperity as its European character wanes away, American youth will naturally gravitate to finding solutions to the problems. The current Alt-Right activists are simply a vanguard of a much large movement whose time will come,” says a post headlined “Attracting Millennials to the Alt-Right Movement” on the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas website.
In addition to speaking Monday at MSU, Spencer is scheduled to appear at the foundation’s “Michigan Alt-Right Conference” on Sunday at a secret location in Detroit, with about 100-300 guests background-checked and approved in advance.
During a similar conference in 2016, Bristow and Spencer toured the Heidelberg Project art installation in Detroit. Bristow’s unverified Twitter profile later called it a tour of “degenerate art,” the term used by Nazis to describe modern art they hated and destroyed.
“We visited various ruins that were iconic,” Bristow said, laughing in a January video interview with right-wing website Red Ice. “I called it a safari of Detroit.”
Heidelberg Project CEO Jenenne Whitfield called the group “hateful misguided self-promoters. Their attempt to use the Heidelberg Project to divide people will fail.”
As a lawyer, Bristow caused embarrassment for the State Bar of Michigan when it gave his racist entry into a short-story contest an honorable mention. The state bar in August 2015 apologized for the award, condemned the piece as “hateful speech masquerading as an alleged work of art” and canceled the contest.
After graduating in 2012 with a law degree from the University of Toledo College of Law, Bristow at one point worked at Helal Farhat’s law firm in Dearborn. Farhat said that when he hired Bristow, he was referred by another attorney.
“As an attorney, he was a good attorney,” Farhat said. “He was a comparatively mild person. I didn’t think his lawyering was bad.”
At the time, he didn’t know about Bristow’s activist history, and they didn’t discuss political views. Farhat, who declined to say how Bristow ended up leaving the law firm, said he now knows about Bristow’s associations. He said the movement “poses a threat to America in general,” and he doesn’t agree with it.
But Bristow appeared to treat people equally, he said.
“If I felt that he was treating people differently in my office, and most of my clients are of Arab-American descent, of course I would never maintain any association with him,” Farhat said.
At Michigan State, the Young Americans for Freedom chapter that Bristow reportedly led (the national organization’s leadership has since said the chapter was never authorized, and YAF “prohibits racists”) held a “Koran desecration contest,” the Toledo Blade reported. In Bristow’s 2016 “Detroit Alt-Right Conference” video, he said the movement is engaged in a “total war, zero sum game in a contest of civilizations,” and that there should be an immigration moratorium based on race and religion.
Asked how he reconciles his beliefs with his professional obligations, Bristow said he was “shocked that you would insinuate that being right-wing is somehow violative of my professional obligations as an attorney.
“I defend the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and do so unapologetically,” he said in an e-mail. “There are justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who rule as I would if I was there — there is nothing exotic about being right-wing.”
Bristow has also received positive media attention for his work as a lawyer. He won two high-six-figure awards in revenge-porn lawsuits.
The mission of Bristow’s “nonpartisan” Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, according to its website, is to “educate the public about the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and people who and organizations which strive to usurp said freedoms.”
That all sounds like something any American can get behind. But after reading a few posts — That time an Indian argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that he is a ‘free white person’ and entitled to citizenship,” “Ancient European cucks” or “Hail Richard Spencer! Hail Our People! Hail (legal) victory!” — the mission seems less benign.
Bristow’s foundation solicits donations in most, if not all, of its online posts. In 2016, its first year, Bristow’s foundation received $8,000 in contributions, according to documents in the Guidestar nonprofit database. Bristow said that contributions are up to about $40,000-$50,000 per year, with an average donation of $100. It has received donations from across the U.S. as well as Canada, Europe and Australia, Bristow said in an e-mail.
“Funds are primarily used for organizing events, marketing, subsidizing lawyers for people who need them in other states, etc.,” Bristow said.
“Prior to FMI, right-wingers had to either hire private attorneys — who are expensive and who charge premiums for clients who they consider unsavory — or right-wingers would rely on public interest groups for help (every now and then, the ACLU would take a token right-wing case),” he said. “Richard Spencer, for example, has been unable to find an attorney to represent him in Virginia due to many attorneys being cowardly in defending controversial people. This is a sad commentary on the state of the American legal profession, which is supposed to protect the Constitution.”