Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency in advance of a white nationalist’s speech Thursday at the University of Florida — an event that has led the school to spend $500,000 to “enhance security on campus” and in Gainesville.
The declaration covers Alachua County through the visit of Richard Spencer. It allows the state to direct resources to the area and to “suspend the effect of any statue, rule or order” that would hinder “action necessary to cope with this emergency.”
Spencer was to be a featured speaker at the August rally in Charlottesville, Va, but authorities stopped that event from taking place — declaring it an “unlawful assembly” — after protests and counterprotests turned violent. One person was killed and 19 others injured that afternoon when a car rammed a crowd of counterprotesters after authorities ordered the crowds to disperse.
Often credited as the person who coined the term “alt-right,” Spencer also led a torch-lit rally in Charlottesville in May that helped to set the stage for the August protests.
The $500,000 that the University of Florida will spend includes money not only for UF police as they keep order during Spencer’s appearance, but also for the Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies providing first responders, the university said. All are expected to play a role on or near campus that day.
UF will recoup $10,564 from Spencer’s National Police Institute for the two-hour rental of the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on the southwest corner of the campus, about 2 miles from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. However, it cannot pass along the balance of these costs — enough to pay the annual tuitions of about 75 undergraduate students, according to university estimates — to the institute under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court free-speech ruling.
UF plans to remain open during the event, but access to campus buildings will be tightly restricted, and its faculty has been asked to be understanding toward students who are fearful to be on campus that day.
University President Kent Fuchs has condemned Spencer’s message multiple times and has urged faculty and students not to attend the event, which is scheduled to run from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“UF has been clear and consistent in its denunciation of all hate speech and racism, and in particular the racist speech and white-nationalist values of Mr. Spencer,” Fuchs wrote Oct. 10. “I personally find the doctrine of white supremacy abhorrent and denounce all forms of racism and hate.”
Following the white nationalist Charlottesville rally in August, Spencer and the institute requested to rent a facility at UF on Sept. 12. The university originally denied the request, citing the violence from Charlottesville and threats directed toward UF. After Spencer’s group spoke of suing the university under free-speech laws, UF switched positions to allow Spencer to rent the space, which often is used by visiting speakers. He was neither invited nor sponsored by UF or any of its organizations.
In the days leading up the event, UF organizations and Gainesville businesses have denounced Spencer’s message, and there were few — if any — signs of support throughout the city.
UF Hillel, a nonprofit that serves Jewish students, said it will provide a safe space guarded by security on Thursday and hold a “Solidarity Shabbat” on Friday with other UF organizations “to show unity and strength.”
The Alligator Brewing Co., in Tall Paul’s Brew House just east of campus in downtown Gainesville, announced on Oct. 12 that everyone 21 and older who brought in two tickets for Spencer’s event would receive a free draft beer. However, plans for the free beer fell through when the institute decided to distribute its own tickets instead of using the Phillips Center’s box office, the university said. NPI posted on its Facebook page that it will post updates of ticket information on the page and Spencer’s Twitter account.
A group called “No Nazis at UF” created a Facebook event announcement to protest Spencer, which has more than 460 people marked as going to the event and more than 870 marked as interested in attending.
“We must stand together in the fight against white supremacy and fascism, and defend the most marginalized of our communities,” the group wrote.
The group started an online petition on change.org to UF administration showing its displeasure with the university allowing Spencer to speak. It had recorded more than 3,300 signatures as of Monday morning.
On Monday, No Nazis at UF’s organizers held a news conference on campus with protest signs in tow. They marched to Fuchs’ office but were denied access.