The small city of Gainesville was on edge today with infamous white nationalist Richard Spencer set to speak at the University of Florida.
The university announced his early departure around 4:15 p.m. after ending his speech early amid a defiant response from the audience. Protestors and police are still on campus.
Here’s the latest:
Heavy police presence
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5:00 p.m. - Richard Spencer has departed from the University of Florida, leaving behind an uncomfortable calm and some scattered skirmishes.
The official count of tickets scanned for Spencer’s speech: 456.
A heavy police presence remains on the campus, as do hundreds of protestors. The sound of a helicopter hovering overhead echoes off the pavement. Barricades still line the streets.
In some corners, protestors chased Spencer supporters, shouting at them. They accused one man holding a “Founding Fathers = Alt Rights” sign of making a “lynching gesture” and began to jostle with him. Someone ripped his sign apart.
The crowd started to chase the man, who yelled that they were “a bunch of animals.” He tried to jump over a barricade and into police protection but the cops stopped him. The crowd of protesters chased him down the street and off campus, while police crashed through bushes and around trees to keep up with the situation.
In front of a crowd of police officers, a protester suddenly shouted “He’s got a weapon.”
Cops immediately detained the man and searched his pockets. One officer pulled out something unidentifiable and said, “You've got to be kidding me.”
The man was led away by police.
4:00 p.m. - Spencer’s closing remarks: “You think that you shut me down. Well you didn’t. You failed at your own game...the world is going to have a very different impression of the University of Florida. The world is not gonna be proud of you.”
- MARTIN VASSOLO
“Go home Spencer:” Alt-right event at UF regresses into extended shouting match.
4:00 p.m. - The heckling came early and often on Thursday. The yelling, chanting and clenching of fists lasted for about an hour.
While UF allowed Richard Spencer to speak on campus, at least 100 UF students and enemies of the prominent firebrand attempted a so-called “heckler’s veto.”
“Go home, Spencer!” protesters yelled, as scores of their peers marched outside the venue. “What are you still doing here?”
Supporters of Spencer responded: “You will not replace us!”
But through the resistance, Spencer persisted with his message of white nationalism and the freedom of speech, no matter how offensive.
Overhead, a handful of police officers in riot gear looked down on the crowd from a balcony. At least two individuals were escorted out of the venue for undisclosed reasons.
But the resistance outnumbered the supporters, and soon enough, Spencer’s scheduled two-hour discussion regressed into an extended shouting match between Spencer, his allies and protesters.
Spencer, although appearing frustrated at times, remained relatively calm. He spoke the praises of his “alt-right” movement, one he vowed would overtake the world.
“There’s been an awakening,” he said. “And I think all you here have felt it.”
After being shouted over by the crowd, which at one point resorted to UF Football chants, Spencer attempted to allow the crowd tire itself out. He then opened the event up to questions, most of which were hostile.
Crowd confronts man outside Spencer speech
3:35 p.m. - As Richard Spencer tried to shout over a defiant crowd inside the Philips Center, outside a man wearing a white shirt with hand drawn red swastikas on it and red suspenders was surrounded by a screaming, yelling crowd and chased out of the protest area and into police custody.
Some people at the center of the group were trying to have a civil debate with the man. One black man, a supporter of Black Lives Matter, hugged him and shook his hand.
Further from the center, a few members of the crowd members were encouraging people to punch him. “"No one will know it’s you,” one male protester in a gray hoodie said.
The majority of the crowd, which alternatively chanted “F--k Nazis, go home,” and “Whose streets? Our streets,” strongly spoke out against the idea of violence.
“No!” One protester yelled. “Don’t do that, please. It'll go against everything we're here standing up for.”
Suddenly, the crowd surged forward and the man in the suspenders was physically lifted and shoved away from the person he was talking to. The crowd marched forward, occasionally brushing up against troopers who screamed “Get back!” and brandished clubs.
The crowd walked the man and his conversation partner all the way to the police road barricade of heavy machinery on the off campus corner of hull road and 34th street. Whenever cops tried to calm the crowd, a chant of “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” started.
Two particularly aggressive men, who were advocating to punch the man in red suspenders, shouted “Preach hate, expect hate.” One said "Of course, protect the Nazis. You’re all the same team anyway.”
The cops pulled the swastika man, who was bleeding from the mouth, and another black man he was speaking with behind the barriers.
- ALEX HARRIS
3:10 p.m. - Want to watch as Spencer yells combatively over a heckling, booing crowd? Here’s a link. (h/t Independent Florida Alligator)
‘I love you too’
2:50 p.m. - Richard Spencer has taken the stage, and his response was not exactly warm.
A steady stream of yelling and boos erupted as the first two speakers address crowd. The crowd seemed split.
“These universities have become cesspools of anti-white vitriol,” Eli Mosley of Identity Evropa said from the stage.
A chant of “Black Lives Matter” reigned over the venue. People were booing and cursing at Mosley. Armed officers stood guard from the balcony overlooking the crowd.
Chants of “F--k you Spencer!” greeted the featured speaker when he walked out.
“I love you too,” he said.
- MARTIN VASSOLO and DAVID SMILEY
Spencer speech condemned by Legislative Jewish Caucus
2:45 p.m. - The following was released Thursday afternoon by the Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus and put out through the office of State Rep. Joe Geller, D-Dania Beach:
Tallahassee, FL - In advance of today's speech in Gainesville by white nationalist Richard Spencer, the undersigned members of the Florida Legislative Jewish Caucus issue the following joint statement:
Let's be clear: Richard Spencer is a vile, racist, carnival barker whose traveling circus of ignorance-fueled hatred is inhabited by insecure clowns unable to come to terms with a changing world. His ideology is that of a cowardly, small man, based on discredited nonsense and abject fear of those different from himself.
Nothing less than total condemnation of this bigotry will do, as the perils of fascism are well documented in our history. For that reason, it is incumbent upon those in a position of leadership to denounce all forms of white nationalism and any belief systems that rely upon racial or ethnic superiority as their basis for existence.
While respect for our Constitution should always be of paramount concern, we do commend Governor Scott for his commitment to ensuring the safety of all those in Gainesville tonight. Those who seek to counter this wicked hatred deserve to know they will be free to express their views peacefully without fear of suffering violence at the hands of white supremacists like those who were attacked in Charlottesville. As Elie Weisel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.”
“So let no one among us be indifferent.”
Sheriff arrests media security
2:30 p.m. - The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Thursday afternoon that its deputies arrested an armed man hired by “the media” as armed security. Authorities identified the man as Sean Brijmohan, 28, from Orlando.
A CBS affiliate in Gainesville reported that Brijmohan was wearing a University of Florida media pass, a knife, handcuffs, and had a loaded firearm underneath his shirt. It’s unclear what media outlet Brijmohan was working with.
Mind your manners
2:20 p.m. - The crowd inside the Philips Center was just told that there will be no heckling or sign-holding during Spencer’s speech.
2:15 p.m. - With the doors open to see Richard Spencer’s speech, a large crowd has pressed around the front of Philips Center, where police and paramedics are escorting people away for security and safety.
A woman in a red tank top and shorts who gave her name as Samantha was pulled out of the venue by police. “They told me to leave. Then they dragged me,” she said.
Seth Smith, a Gainesville veteran injured in Iraq, wasn’t allowed inside the center due to his cane. He said police turned him away at first, then a man in an Identity Europa pin said “push em out. Get em out of here.”
Heading into the venue, police searched each individual entrant as protestors swarmed the area. At one point, a police utility vehicle full of Gainesville Fire Rescue paramedics and cops in riot gear showed up and took care of a dehydrated girl on the ground.
-ALEX HARRIS and DAVID SMILEY
Lawmakers propose removing confederate monuments and holidays
2:00 p.m. - As police and protesters prepare today in Gainesville for white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak at the University of Florida, two state legislators, both Democrats, filed bills to remove the vestiges of the confederacy from Florida's statutes and public spaces.
Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, filed HB 235 Thursday to remove from public property all monuments erected to memorialize members of the Confederate military or any other organization that espouses white supremacist or white separatist ideology.
“Who we once were cannot, and should not, continue to define who we are today as a state,” Jones said in a statement. “It is time that we assess this period in our history with the context it deserves and with the clear-eyed understanding that our ghosts are just that: spirits whose presence cannot continue to haunt us.”
To read the rest, click here.
—MARY ELLEN KLAS
Spencer: UF president ‘stood behind us’
1:50 p.m. - In a hostile address to the media prior to his event at the University of Florida on Thursday, Richard Spencer thanked UF President Kent Fuchs for allowing him to speak.
“This is the free speech issue of our day,” said Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who was initially denied a request to speak at UF. “And I’m very happy that President Fuchs has stood behind us and allowed this to go through.”
Publicly, Fuchs has condemned Spencer’s beliefs and implored students to stay away from his speaking engagement, scheduled to last from 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm. But some individuals in the community, both students and non-students, feel that Fuchs is complicit in allowing Spencer to spread a message of white nationalism.
“I don’t know what his motivations are, but the fact is he stood behind this and allowed this to go forward,” Spencer said. “So I don’t really have any major complaints. He can express his opinions. It’s a free country.”
Fuchs quickly responded to Spencer’s praise, writing on Twitter that he doesn’t stand behind “racist Richard Spencer.”
“I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message,” he said.
UF policy stipulates that any outside organization can rent space on campus. Spencer’s request was initially denied for what UF called safety concerns following the death of a counter-protester in Charlottesville, Virginia in September.
1:45 p.m. - Doors are now open for Richard Spencer’s speech.
Report of gun-related arrest
1:45 p.m. - Ryan Thomson, a 28-year-old Gainesville local, said he saw a white man with a beard wearing a press pass surrounded by police and arrested in the street in front of the Phillips Center.
“They lifted up his shirt and he had a pistol on his hip,” he says.
— ALEX HARRIS
Packages and links
1:30 p.m. - A few pro-Spencer activists are standing near the entrance to the Harn Art Museum and verbally sparring with liberal protesters.
“They say ‘Spencer wants to genocide a race.’ Show me that link,” a man who wouldn't identify himself shouted at Trisha Ingle, a local activist.
The pair went back and fourth on Spencer and whether he was a Nazi. Ingle eventually scoffed with disgust and walked off.
“I'll wait on that link,” the pro-Spencer man called.
“You'll wait until hell freezes over,” she shot back.
“Yeah, because it doesn't exist,” he replied.
— ALEX HARRIS
Spencer Q&A starts on bizarre, combative note
1:00 p.m. - Ahead of his speech at UF, Richard Spencer held a Q&A with reporters at 12:45 p.m. Thursday.
But the first questions weren’t asked by the media. They were asked of the media.
Calling it a “teachable moment,” Spencer engaged in a somewhat bizarre exchange with Kerry Sanders of NBC’s Today Show, claiming that Sanders had wrongly reported that Spencer was handing out tickets and intended to “only allow” extremist supporters into the event.
“I have said the exact opposite of that on multiple occasions to many reporters. You were ignorant to this. You didn’t do suitable research ... or you lied. I’m curious which of those two things happened?” he asked Sanders, refusing to take any questions until Sanders responded. “Why don’t you allow us to move on by simply correcting your statement.”
“Let’s try this: Tick tock. People are here to hear you speak,” Sanders responded.
— DAVID SMILEY
Flash demos on deck in Gainesville?
12:45 p.m. - White supremacist website Daily Stormer is advising supporters of Richard Spencer who can’t get tickets to his talk today to stage “flash demos” in other parts of Gainesville, including at its office.
“You can go anywhere in the city to stage flash demos. People have phones with cameras, the media is interested, it will get coverage,” the website states. The sites named are Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center, Institue of Black Culture, The Gainesville Sun and Starbucks.
The publication told supporters to dress normally and said the Stormer would be passing out tickets. The post told people not to bring weapons: “We are not street fighters. That’s an urban myth.”
Here’s what the Anti-Defamation League said about the post by Andrew Anglin:
“The purpose of these tactics, Anglin wrote, is to create confusion and public attention to make the community think that ‘the entire city is taken over by our guys.’”
No bats, clubs or propane tanks
11:15 a.m.: For anyone heading to see Spencer speak Thursday afternoon, here’s a handy dandy list of what not to bring. Remember to leave those propane grills, wagons, bats clubs and sticks at home. (h/t Casey Albritton of WUFT.)
— DAVID SMILEY
Rumors of ‘armed Aryan brotherhood militia’
9: a.m.: A professor in UF’s geography department emailed his students Wednesday afternoon to be careful with Spencer in town. It was picked up by the department and sent out on a student email listserv just after 4 p.m.
“FYI,” the professor wrote, “I just walked into Turlington 10 minutes ago, and there were armed Aryan Brotherhood militia circling the building. It feels like they are testing how much they can get away with, openly carrying weapons.”
The screenshot quickly spread to social media and students panicked. It took some time before students started to connect the dots. The professor was referencing a crowd of armed men in khaki long-sleeved shirts and black boots. But a closer look at their shirts identified them as Florida troopers, some of the hundred patrolling campus by Wednesday afternoon.
Alachua County opened a rumor control hotline at 311 to address this and other rumors, including a debunked claim of a noose found on a tree on campus. There are so many rumors flying that police have said they will not address them individually.
– ALEX HARRIS
This article will be continually updated.