The University of Florida is coordinating with local and state law-enforcement officials in anticipation of the potential appearance in Gainesville of a white nationalist leader affiliated with this weekend’s deadly confrontation in Charlottesville, Va.
UF President Kent Fuchs sent an email to staff this weekend, alerting them that National Policy Institute President Richard Spencer, who made an appearance at the Charlottesville event, could speak at the university next month.
Spencer is a leader in the “alt-right” movement, blamed for a deadly outburst following a “Unite the Right” rally Saturday in Charlottesville that left one person dead after a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been in contact with University of Florida officials regarding Spencer’s potential visit.
“Governor Scott has spoken with University of Florida President Kent Fuchs and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell to offer any support from the state, if needed. Regardless of how the university decides to move forward, Florida has zero tolerance for violence of any kind. Safety is always the governor’s foremost concern,” John Tupps, Scott’s communications director, said in an email Monday when asked about the Gainesville situation.
Fuchs said in this weekend’s email to staff members that Spencer could make a Sept. 12 appearance.
“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,” Fuchs said in the Saturday message. “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.”
But, Fuchs added, “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.”
University officials met Monday with the Gainesville Police Department, campus police and other law enforcement in preparation for Spencer’s potential appearance.
But University of Florida spokeswoman Janine Sikes stressed that the event has not been finalized.
“This is a tentative event at this point,” Sikes told The News Service of Florida. “Nothing has been signed. This is not a go yet.”
Like other speakers, Spencer would have to pay for the rental of the space as well as security costs, which had not been determined as of Monday, according to Sikes.
In Saturday’s missive, Fuchs cautioned against a volatile reaction to Spencer, a divisive figure who heads the National Policy Institute, a group dedicated to “the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world,” according to its website.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, “Spencer advocates for an Aryan homeland for the supposedly dispossessed white race and calls for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to halt the “deconstruction” of European culture. But even some of the Europeans he lionizes have rejected him; in October 2014, his attempt to hold an NPI conference in Budapest, Hungary, resulted in his arrest and expulsion.” Spencer has called Martin Luther King Jr. a “fraud” and “degenerate,” and has claimed that “Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”
The university’s ability to restrict controversial figures like Spencer from appearing on campus is limited, even in the aftermath of the situation in Charlottesville, according to First Amendment lawyers.
“One could understand how he (Fuchs) would prefer not to see a repeat of that in Gainesville and prefer to see that they not come. But if they have opened the university’s space for the public to use for meetings or speakers, then he literally can’t say no simply because he disagrees with someone who asks to use the space,” Tom Julin, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment law, told The News Service of Florida. “Simply because there has been an incident of violence, that doesn’t mean that speakers affiliated with that violence lose their right to speak. That’s the last thing you want to do.”
Julin’s views reflected those of multiple First Amendment lawyers interviewed Monday.
Because UF officials have made the space available to others, they aren’t able to put it off-limits to more controversial speakers, said Frank LoMonte, director of the University of Florida Brechner Center, a think tank focused on media-related issues.
“Once you hold the availability of government property for speech, you can’t pick and choose the speakers you like,” LoMonte said in a telephone interview Monday.
If UF officials wanted to blackball Spencer, they’d also have to shut down the venue for other speakers, according to the experts.
“It’s very easy to say these are white supremacists, and we should stop them from speaking. But the First Amendment protects the most unpopular viewpoints that are being expressed. So you have to look at all the alternatives that are available … before you can, consistent with the First Amendment, stop that viewpoint from being expressed,” Julin said. “That’s the last thing you want to do.”
In the meantime, state, local and federal law-enforcement officials are preparing for the potential event, especially in light of the developments in Virginia.
“GPD is aware of a possible appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer at UF on September 12th. We are also aware of information online through multiple forums and blogs surrounding the event,” the Gainesville Police Department said in a Facebook post. “We will continue to closely monitor the planning of this event and any peripheral protests/counter protests that are expected to arise if Mr. Spencer does appear.”
The Gainesville police post acknowledged that, although the event is scheduled to take place on the UF campus, “it would be foolish to think that any protests/counter protests would not occur in our city limits.”
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive
Wishful Thinking says
What next? Shame on UFstaff for inviting this monster and probable investor of KKK outfits to breed hate in our state.
Best way to protest is not to go…..It’s a shame that he would even be allowed to appear. Freedom of speech or not…its garbage.
Did you read the article? UF did not invite them…..
joseph pulitzer says
I agree with Violet. Ignore him and his minions. If the only ones who listen to him are his followers, he has gained nothing.
Steve Robinson says
I think it’s unlikely that UF “invited” Spencer, but having allowed their facilities to be used by other non-campus groups, they can’t make an exception for abhorrent speech. At least that’s the way I read it.
a tiny manatee says
UF didn’t invite this, he was booked by an organization that rented space on the UF campus. That said, be sure to punch him in the face if you get a chance.
Marilyn Wilkinson says
Our son is a 4th year at UF. This is a copy/paste of an email sent to all students via their gatormail accounts:
From: All UF Students List on behalf of UF President Kent Fuchs
Sent: Saturday, August 12, 2017 4:55 PM
Subject: Potential Speaker on Campus—Message from President Fuchs
Aug. 12, 2017
Dear Campus Community,
The National Policy Institute has reached out to the university to reserve space for a speaking event featuring white nationalist and “alt-right” activist Richard Spencer on September 12.
This organization is unaffiliated with the university, and no student groups or other groups affiliated with the university are sponsoring this speech. This event is not finalized and it is still under discussion.
Per university regulation 2.004, non-university groups, organizations and persons may rent space on campus, provided they cover rental expenses and security costs like all other third-party renters.
UF administration, staff and campus police are developing a security plan for the potential event and are working with colleagues across the country who have had similar events on their campus.
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.
It is up to every student, faculty member, staff member, and myself to demonstrate our university values of respect and inclusion in all that we do. We have an opportunity to lead the way.
We will continue to keep you updated as more information develops through email and our information line: 1-866-UF-Facts.
W. Kent Fuchs
University of Florida
Sandi Sites says
He was not invited by UF staff – read the article. BTW, I would think in light of the events in VA, the potential cost of security that they would be responsible for would be VERY EXPENSIVE. Maybe even prohibitively expensive. Perhaps high enough to make them think twice about coming to FL
USA Lover says
Marilyn Wilkinson says
I, for one, am relieved. I believe UF made the correct decision and put the safety of all as their #1 priority.
UF Denies Request For Speaking Event
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT AT UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA·WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2017
Dear Campus Community:
Amid serious concerns for safety, we have decided to deny the National Policy Institute’s request to rent event space at the University of Florida.
This decision was made after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: “The Next Battlefield is in Florida.”
I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for.
That said, the University of Florida remains unwaveringly dedicated to free speech and the spirit of public discourse. However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others.
The likelihood of violence and potential injury – not the words or ideas – has caused us to take this action.
W. Kent Fuchs
President, University of Florida
A tiny manatee says
Looks like UF made the right decision:
Mr. Spencer maybe needs to be reminded to hear and enjoy like we do, beautiful songs like : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f65mO146Zo
Hip Hip Hooray to UF and President Mr. Fuchs!!
While I also find this ideology reprehensible, I think the school has to be careful with how they “vet” speakers wishing to utilize their campus. It was just a few months ago at Berkeley where a conservative speaker was unable to lecture because of the intolerant leftist mobs that rioted and destroyed school property. If the only criteria for denying an individual’s right to speak, then ANY speaker can be denied if the mobs threaten to burn the place down. What a convenient tool that would be for the snowflakes to protect themselves from the likes of say, Ann Coultur or Sean Hannity. I also agree that the best way to handle the extremists is to allow them to speak, but everyone ignore them; they are vying for attention.
Rick Scott Opening? says
Will Gov Rick Scott be the opening act for the group?