White-nationalist Richard Spencer brought his “alt-right” movement to the University of Florida Thursday, calling America a “white country,” but his message was drowned out.
Attempting to speak over the derisive shouts and chants from a diverse and hostile crowd at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Spencer and others attempted to preach about what they called the failure of diversity and the success of identity politics.
But the perpetual heckling quashed much of the dialogue, angering Spencer, who mocked the university students throughout his remarks.
“You think that you shut me down, but you didn’t. You even failed in your own game,” Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, told the crowd before departing. “The world is going to look at this event and the world is going to have a very different impression … and the world is not going to be proud of you.”
Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, host of The Right Stuff podcast, told the crowd that their chants and actions “is the best recruiting tool you can ever give us.”
Outside, hundreds stood in protest on a barricaded street where law enforcement from throughout the state stood watch, on the road, on roofs, in nearby woods, in helicopters and through drones. Gov. Rick Scott had earlier in the week declared a state of emergency for Alachua County in advance of Spencer’s appearance.
While Scott’s emergency declaration helped to increase tension across campus, Thursday’s event was relatively calm and resulted in just two arrests, according to the Alachua County Sheriff’s office.
One man was charged with resisting an officer without violence, according to the sheriff’s office. Another man was arrested for carrying a firearm on campus, a violation of state law. According to the sheriff’s office, Sean Brijmohan, a 28-year-old from Orlando, was an armed security guard hired by the media.
Inside, about 30 white-shirted supporters lined the front two rows, cheering Spencer and other speakers during the 90-minute event. Those in the front rows were separated by several empty rows from the more inflamed audience members that were targeted by the speakers for supporting “anti-white” diversity.
Many students and faculty strongly opposed Spencer’s appearance, which UF President Kent Fuchs and others urged the university community to boycott.
The school had initially denied Spencer’s request to speak. But Fuchs has noted that, while Spencer’s appearance isn’t sponsored by any student group, the public university couldn’t lawfully prohibit the event based on the content or views expressed in the speech.
During his speech, Spencer said he was glad Fuchs “stood behind him” and allowed the event to go on. His remarks drew a hasty rebuke from Fuchs.
“For the record, I don’t stand behind racist Richard Spencer. I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message,” Fuchs tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Matt Rawlson, a freshman from Orlando majoring in communications and history, said Spencer’s grasp of history appears “impressive,” but the message remains “despicable.”
“The protests were incredible, it was astounding just how loud it was,” said Rawlson, who said he attended to hear what Spencer had to say. “It was too loud at some points to my liking, but I think overall I’m very, very proud of the student body and the university as a whole.”
Spencer said those in the audience, many of them students, were acting like “childlike Antifa” — anti-fascists — and that all the world will hear is “a bunch of screeching and grunting morons.”
His jibes were delivered over a crowd whose chants included “Nazis are not welcome here,” “go home Spencer,” “black lives matter,” accompanied by raised fists and the middle finger.
The crowd also blamed Spencer for a death at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August, when Heather Heyer was killed after a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protestors. Dozens of others were injured.
The “moron” comment drew cheers from some in the crowd, which then broke into a chant of “Let’s go Gators, let’s go.” That prompted Spencer to jab back, saying “nothing says committed leftist like supporting a football program.”
During a question-and-answer session following his speech, Spencer was asked “Why do you think you’re welcome here when it took a court order to get you here?” Another opponent asked Spencer if he believed “the words that come out of your mouth.” Another wanted to know “am I white enough?”
Prior to the speech, Spencer held a press conference that he opened by confronting an NBC reporter about the distribution of tickets.
NBC reported earlier in the day that the tickets were only going to supporters, based upon the information they had been given at the time. The network updated the posting to say tickets would go to anyone who wanted one.
Spencer later claimed “the alt-right is a revolutionary movement in the best sense of the word.
“We truly do want to change the world,” Spencer said. “We think another world is possible.”
He said non-whites, who favor mass-immigration and multi-culturalism and global America, have other countries in which they can go reside.
“It would be a much more peaceful world, it would be a much more meaningful world for all human beings, it would be a better and more beautiful world if people like me were in power,” Spencer said.
He and a group of his supporters, who joined him onstage during the press conference, disavowed they were responsible for violence at past events.
He said he initially believed his college tour, where “controversial and dangerous” could be discussed, would be easy.
But Spencer said he has found “road blocks at every place along the way.”
“I am bringing ideas that are not being taught in this stifling, PC, academic environment we all live through,” Spencer claimed.
The school charged Spencer’s National Policy institute more than $10,000 to rent the building, but security costs for the UF event have grown to $600,000. An estimated 500 law enforcement officers, from the around the state were reportedly on campus Thursday.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida