Citing a need to protect “the health, safety and welfare” of the public, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Alachua County in advance of a white-nationalist leader’s appearance Thursday at the University of Florida.
University officials agreed to allow Richard Spencer, the leader of the National Policy Institute, to speak on campus, after university President Kent Fuchs initially balked at a proposed speaking date last month.
The university relented after a lawyer for the controversial Spencer threatened to sue. On Monday, Scott issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Alachua County to allow state and local law enforcement officials to coordinate and share resources.
“We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence, and public safety is always our number one priority,” Scott said in a prepared statement accompanying the seven-page order. “This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”
Scott’s order came at the request of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, who said she sought the emergency declaration “more so of being able to get the resources needed to prepare, rather than a sense of alarm regarding the protest.”
Still, Darnell added, “There is an element of being conscious that there has been violence and property damage in other areas where this speaker has spoken,” even if Spencer wasn’t directly involved in the behavior.
“We have to be prepared for any eventuality,” she said in a telephone interview Monday.
The declaration establishes a “cooperative and coordinated security plan” among state and local law enforcement agencies to ensure that they are “sufficiently prepared to deal with any security and safety issues related to the speaking engagement,” which is slated for the university’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Spencer’s prior appearances at universities in Alabama, California, Texas and Virginia “have sparked protests and counter-protests resulting in episodes of violence, civil unrest, and multiple arrests,” the governor noted in his emergency declaration.
Clashes between Spencer’s white nationalist supporters — some of whom carried tiki torches — and antifascist, or antifa, supporters turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., in August after a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, killing 31-year-old Heather Heyer. Dozens of others were injured, and two Virginia state troopers died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the situation.
Gainesville authorities are concerned about the possibility of a similar mob, prompting Darnell to request the additional support.
Scott’s order directs the activation of the Florida National Guard, if necessary, and makes the Florida Department of Law Enforcement the lead agency in charge of “crisis management.”
Also, the governor’s order puts the state’s Division of Emergency Management — the agency that oversees responses to disasters like hurricanes — in charge of any fallout if confrontations in Gainesville become violent, a move that appeared to appeal to the firebrand Spencer.
“BREAKING: Hurricane Ricardo expected to hit Gainsville this Thursday,” Spencer said in a Twitter post accompanied by an image of his face in the center of a massive storm off Florida’s coast.
The university appeared to downplay the significance of Scott’s emergency order Monday, saying it allowed for “enhanced coordination” between various agencies and “is not in response to any specific heightened threat.”
“It is a process that enables various law enforcement agencies to work together more efficiently. For example, agencies from multiple jurisdictions can be mobilized, if necessary, without bureaucratic delays. We appreciate Gov. Scott’s support and commitment to UF’s campus safety,” the university said in a statement released late Monday afternoon.
Spencer, who has been an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, earned notoriety following a press conference where followers broke out in Nazi-like salutes in response to Spencer saying, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”
Fuchs and the university have made clear that they do not endorse Spencer’s neo-Nazi ideology, but maintain the state school is required by law to allow him to appear.
“The values of our university are not shared by Mr. Spencer, the National Police Institute or his followers,” Fuchs said in a Facebook video posted last week. “Our campuses are places where people of all races, origins and religions are welcomed and are treated with love.”
Fuchs encouraged students and others to shun Spencer.
“Do not provide Mr. Spencer and his followers the spotlight they are seeking. I urge everyone to stay away from the Phillips Center on Oct. 19,” he said.
But a group calling itself “No Nazis at UF,” which was granted an impromptu meeting with university officials Monday in an attempt to call off Spencer’s speech, plans to show up en masse to protest on Thursday.
“We will be there Thursday, thousands strong protesting against fascism and white nationalism. We hope you will join us,” the group said in a Twitter post Thursday afternoon.
Local authorities are facing the same dilemma other college towns confronted when Spencer came to campus.
“We’re dealing with a lot of unknowns. We’re hoping that this is going to be a non-event. It’s going to go peacefully. It’s going to be very low-attended. And it’s just going to go fine, and we will have the experience of having this marvelous drill and training opportunity. But we don’t know that, so we’re taking it very seriously,” Darnell said.
–Darak Kam, News Service of Florida
What a mess. Prayers to Gainesville, they will need them. I hope the authorities will keep the two factions from getting together because the police were told to stand down at Charlottesville and the two sides got together and the rest is history.
Tell me again why speakers who are going to cause violence and property damage have the right to speak again? Why should any university or public be forced to pay for all this? You have the right to be heard, but you have the responsibility to respect your environment and be held accountable for any and all damages, including the cost of extra security.
Black Steel says
Racism is so ingrained in american pride when you stand against IT people believe your being unpatriotic.
The poor excuse for men in the photo above have come to the realization that they now have to actually compete for what was handed to their parents and grand parents. I don’t want to hear that your family didn’t own slaves. Yes you still benefit from other people white people owning slaves and the polices put in place to hurt the descendants of slaves. Being white and poor doesn’t equal being enslaved and reduced to less than an animal. Don’t take it from me read the words of man who lived during the good ole days.
Lyndon B. Johnson “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Welcome to Donald trump and his true blue voters America!
The University has posted a long list of items that protestors will be forbidden to carry or display, including weapons, torches, bats, backpacks, coolers, water bottles, soda cans, masks, matches, lighters, cigarettes, etc. If the university seriously intends to enforce the rules and the dress code, it will need hundreds of officers. Here is a link to the complete list:
Jack Howell says
While I totally agree with the First Amendment, nothing good will come from Spencer’s mouth or his followers.
Glenn Berry says
Don’t attend the speach and don’t attend the protest. Really, simple as that! Really, stop this s#!t by making it news (fake) worthy.
Disgusted. Germany outlawed nazism and all it’s symbols. The United States, where so many of our young men and women died during WWII fighting the nazis, should outlaw them and banish those who flout the laws and common decency of our nation. Nothing has changed in naziland since WWII ended. They are still the evil corrupt scum who would gladly murder anyone not them.
Spencer needs to follow that florida republican trump supporter in the news a few days ago… IMO
If no one showed up to to these events to protest, there would be no event.
Born and Raised Here says
It makes me sad how these protestors are using our Confederate Flag to spread there hate and racism. All that flag was,. was a battle flag for the Confederate Army, This is really hurting my Southern Hertiage,
Where is Trump when he is needed? Since Trump likes deporting people so much, let him sign an executive order making these fascist / anti-fascist illegals, and deport them to Antarctica where they can cool off for a while. Ha Ha
good american says
Florida is no longer the Sunshine State, Gov. has changed it to the State of Emergency. :)
That’s my Alma Mater!!!
Nothing wrong with letting Spencer carry out his speech. We all might learn something.
Let’s make America White again!!!!
Just the truth says
Bannon and The Donald’s voting buddies. Bringing hate back to our country.
another vet says
would it be a state of emergency if Al Sharpton was the speaker
Black Steel says
@ another vet
Has Al Sharpton ever said his race was superior than another? Have black people ever owned white people as slaves in the USA? Have white people in America ever faced the full weight of Black supremacy in everyday life, education, government, the work place, and criminal justice system. It seems the only arguments given as far as injustice to white people is Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, OJ and affirmative action, oh yeah and now so called Black Lives Matter. If an old black man with a James brown hairdo is all you have to worry about your doing good.
Nancy N. says
@another vet – The governor declared a state of emergency to give police the resources they need to provide security for this event, given the history of violent incidents that have occurred at Richard Spencer’s previous events and other white nationalist events this year. Auburn, Charlottesville, Berkley…let’s not have Gainesville added to that list.
Whats sad is many of the people waving the nazi flag today would have been hiding from the nazis under someones floor. So much energy focused on other people. They’ll rally up, spread hate on blacks, hispanics, and others…then go home and watch their favorite football team on tv, which is filled with, you guessed it!
another vet says
Concerned Citizen says
For those laughing and criticizing the state of emergency condition this is how it works. And I speak as someone with a prior public safety background and current volunteer in the Emergency Services field.
A State of Emergency is requested when an incident man made or natural might occur that exceeds a local jurisdictions resources. In this case a rally that might turn violent has Law Enforcement and Emergency Management Officials concerned and rightly so after Charlottesville.
A State Of Emergency allows additional resources like Police,Fire, EMS and even The National Guard to be staged in advance. It’s extremely difficult to get assets into a crisis area after an event unfolds. Far easier to demobilize when not needed.
The same State Of Emergency also allows for additional funding for the affected area. A large event like this requiring so many different levels of public safety is extremely taxing. While Gainesville might be able to handle certain things it all depends on the magnitude of the event..
I support the First Amendment and understand it guarantees us freedom of speech. However with that freedom does come responsibility. You are still accountable for your actions stemming from the use of free speech. The First Amendment does not give you the right to hurt or kill someone because they have an opposing view point.
Finally I would like to add this. It amazes me how the same people criticizing the Governor for trying to prepare for an unfortunate event would also criticize if he did nothing.
I’m not a Governor Scott fan nor am I really political. However if we are on Flagler Live next week commenting because of a riot and nothing was done I bet you’d still be critical.
I have no quarrel with the governor and Gainesville-area law enforcement deciding that hundreds of police need to be mobilized at the campus Thursday. But by declaring a state of emergency, Gov. Scott has raised the tension level that possibly will attract even a bigger crowd of protestors. And UF President Fuchs added to the fear level by tossing out, without substantiation, the $500,000 cost estimate for the security. (Today, he upped the figure to $600,000). It’s likely a ploy to get the federal government to cover the cost, but the figure, whether exaggerated or not, adds to the sensationalism. There also is duplicity when the university issues a statement saying classes will be held as usual, but then on its “Free Speech” (sic) page says classes in several buildings near the Phillips Center will be cancelled. Finally, I hope the media pays close attention to whatever checkpoints are set up to screen people heading toward the Phillips Center. The list of banned items (purses, backpacks, coolers, cigarettes, bandannas, etc) boggles the mind. I hope other universities in Florida and beyond study the UF security plan and decide whether it was effective or overkill.
One way to fix stupid is don’t show up. Stupid is showing up!!