White Nationalist Richard Spencer may speak at UF; counter protest planned

White Nationalist Richard Spencer may be speaking at the University of Florida and a protest is already brewing.

White Nationalist Richard Spencer may be speaking at the University of Florida and a protest is already brewing.

In a letter from the university's president, Kent Fuchs, Spencer has reached out to UF to speak on September 12. But on the very same day, at least 1,000 people say they will be there in protest of the white nationalist. 

The Facebook Event called No Nazis at UF - Protest Richard Spencer calls for a protest in front of the Phillips Center for Performing Arts; 1,000 people have said they're going and over 2,800 have said they're interested. 

Zackery Ryan, a UF alum, echoes the concerns of many students and people in the community about Spencer coming to speak on campus. 

"That's our campus," Ryan said, "our community, do we really want it destroyed?"

He continued in a text message: "I really feel that we should learn from the mistakes of other universities that allowed them to hold their events on campus."

Ryan is referring to the wave of arrests and violence like what happened at Auburn University or Texas A&M, not to mention the most recent violence and tragedy out of Charlottesville.

Spencer is a known leader of the white nationalist movement was present and participating in Charlottesville with the former KKK leader, David Duke, according to ABC News.

Fuchs' letter states that Spencer speaking at UF is not an event that is affiliated with the campus or any campus group, instead, Spencer's company, The National Policy Institute, has sought to rent space for Spencer to speak.

The letter goes on to detail that UF lets third parties rent out space for events and that the National Policy Institute, like all third party groups, will have to cover the cost of the rental and security. The letter continues:

For many in our community, including myself, this speaker’s presence would be deeply disturbing. What we’ve watched happen in Charlottesville, VA. in the last 24 hours, is deplorable.  I again denounce all statements and symbols of hate. The University of Florida is a community of learners, educators and scholars. We encourage open and honest dialogue, and we strive to build an inclusive environment where hate is not welcome.

While this speaker’s views do not align with our values as an institution, we must follow the law, upholding the First Amendment not to discriminate based on content and provide access to a public space.

Though we have a responsibility as a public university, we also have a vital duty to our students, faculty and staff to uphold our educational mission.

Instead of allowing hateful speech to tear us down, I urge our campus community to join together, respect one another and promote positive speech, while allowing for differing opinions. These types of groups want media attention. I encourage our campus community to send a message of unity by not engaging with this group and giving them more media attention for their message of intolerance and hate.

Fuchs said in his letter that the UF administration and the University of Florida Campus Police will be working together to develop a security plan for the potential event. 

The Gainesville Police Department released a statement stating they are aware of the possibility of Spencer coming to speak at UF. In the Facebook post, they also address threats that were made on a popular website called 4Chan that site Gainesville, and possibly Jacksonville, as the next white nationalist "battle ground." (Be advised the language in those posts are vulgar, click at your own discretion.)

Mitch Emerson made the public Facebook event but said that many campus groups and local people are working together to create a coalition against Spencer speaking on campus. 

Emerson did not attend UF, but knows many who did after he worked as part of the Obama campaign on campus in 2008. He said he created the group because he knew if there was going to be a way to get people together against Spencer speaking at UF, they had to assemble sooner rather than later. 

"If we know it's definitely happening, you need to get working and planning now," Emerson said. At first, many people thought it was just a rumor.

In his experience, Emerson said about 50 percent of the people who say they are coming to events like these show up and about 10 percent of the people who say they are interested show up, but he believes this will be different.

"I would expect a very high turn out," Emerson said. Many people are reaching out to him wanting to be involved without being tying their names publicly to a resistance, in fear of backlash.

"I have no doubt I will be harassed for creating the event," he said, but he felt it was important to bring attention to Spencer speaking on campus and make a public space where people outside of Gainesville could coordinate being part of the resistance. 

"Alt-right -- white nationalist -- it's important for people to know it's a hate group," Emerson said. "They're a hate group and there is not an alternative fact way of describing it," he continued. It is not a matter of separatism or preserving European history as it has been said to be before by white nationalists, but it is the idea that if you are not white, you are less, Emerson said.

Some students are divided on allowing Spencer to speak, however.

UF alum Kiwanie said in a Facebook comment: 

We can't go against the first amendment so it's his right to speak. Even though I don't agree or condone his white supremacist nazi propaganda UF shouldn't be a bubble/safe space from speakers like this. It's scary because obviously some people believe what he says & that might provoke bad actions from other people but I see this as an opportunity for people like us who are more open minded to start that conversation with someone who believes his propaganda & might be an opportunity to have an intellectual conversation & expose those people to our point of view. It's all about educating when we have a chance & not let ignorance take charge. I can go on but unfortunately this is the country we live in now.

But some people are fed up and think that UF is being complicit in a message that is not safe for students, like UF alum Bobby who spoke out in a Facebook comment:

It shows a lack of concern for the actual Students of Color who go to the university, but y'know, someone who has no affiliation should be made to feel welcome amirite?

First Coast News wasn't able to reach the University of Florida for comment as they do not have media personnel available on the weekend. We will reach out on Monday for further comment. 

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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