White Nationalist Leader To Speak At University Of Florida Despite Fears Of Violence
Richard Spencer at an event in Texas in 2016. David J. Phillip / AP
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has already declared a state of emergency to free up state resources should protests of Richard Spencer on Thursday get violent.
GAINESVILLE, Florida — A white nationalist who claims to be the leader of the alt-right movement is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida on Thursday despite concerns that protests could turn violent.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in advance of the planned speech by Richard Spencer, a move that frees up local law enforcement to work more easily with state agencies. He also activated the National Guard to assist as needed.
The university said shortly after the declaration that no specific threat had been received for the midday event, but memories of the deadly and violent events at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in August have clearly not faded. It was there that Spencer led white supremacists bearing torches in a march chanting phrases such as “Jews will not replace us.”
A woman was later killed that weekend when a man drove a car into a “Unite the Right” rally, drawing widespread condemnation and setting off a political firestorm over President Trump’s initial response.
In addition to state resources activated for the University of Florida event, police have banned masks and water bottles at the site of the venue.
The Anti-Defamation League also claimed that the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer was trying to encoruage flash mobs outside the speech.
For his part, Spencer, the 39-year-old white nationalist credited with coining the term “alt-right,” made fun of the governor’s declaration on Twitter, referring to himself as a natural disaster.
He also vowed to go through with the event and said if any violence were to occur, it would be instigated by members of the anti-fascist movement that has surged in response to the alt-right.
Members of the alt-right and antifa have clashed violently in past events, not just in Charlottesville.
But unlike in past events, Spencer was not invited to the university, but instead booked the venue himself. When the school tried to block his appearance, Spencer threatened a free speech lawsuit, prompting the university to reverse course and take extraordinary precautions. University officials said they planned to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on security alone.
“Although UF leadership has denounced Spencer’s white supremacist rhetoric, the university, as a state entity, must allow the free expression of all viewpoints,” the school said in a statement.
Spencer is scheduled to speak alongside white supremacists Eli Mosley, leader of Identity Europa, and Mike Enoch, host of the alt-right anti-semitic podcast The Right Stuff. All three men believe in a whites-only United States formed by “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
Mitch Emerson, the organizer of one of the largest planned protests against Spencer (“No Nazis at UF — Protest Richard Spencer”), told BuzzFeed News the goal was “to make the message very clear that they are not welcome and there are more of us then them.”
But there were other efforts to drain the venue of bodies and tamp down any potential volatility.
Sen. Marco Rubio and the president of the university, W. Kent Fuchs, urged people not to attend the event. Some UF faculty, students, and staff have also canceled classes. And a nearby bar, Tall Paul’s Brew House, offered to exchange tickets to the event for free beer in an attempt to leave Spencer with an empty auditorium.
Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Blake Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.