Education

UF won’t let white nationalist leader speak on campus over safety concerns

White nationalist Richard Spencer, center, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Lee Park after the Unite the Right rally was declared an unlawful gathering Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
White nationalist Richard Spencer, center, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Lee Park after the Unite the Right rally was declared an unlawful gathering Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Getty Images

The University of Florida denied so-called “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer’s request to speak on campus in September, citing “serious concerns for safety,” and there are concerns that the university may face a legal challenge over its decision.

The university decided against allowing Spencer, who led the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that erupted in violence and ended with the death of a young woman, to speak on campus after the unrest in Virginia, as well as posts on internet forums like 4chan that claimed Florida was “the next battlefield.”

“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,” UF President Kent Fuchs posted in a letter to students, adding that the university is still “unwaveringly dedicated to free speech.”

Read More: In Charlottesville’s wake, notorious Florida-born racist forum sees traffic spike

“However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others,” Fuchs continued. “The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action.”

One of the posts from 4chan, a website whose users strive to post things that rile others up, claimed Florida was a great place for white nationalists and counterprotesters to clash because “you can basically open carry and pop someone for saying ‘I’m going to kill you.’ 

“words=getting shot in Florida legally,” the user wrote. “le gal ly.”

Auburn University, the last school that tried to cancel a Spencer appearance on similar grounds, was forced to host the white nationalist after a judge sided with the event organizer’s free speech argument.

Evan McLaren, the executive director of Spencer’s National Policy Institute, said a lawsuit against UF is on the table, but no decision has yet been made. He said the same Spencer supporter who organized the Auburn event and sued the school to make it happen, Cameron Padgett, is the same man behind UF’s event. Padgett told The Associated Press he is filing a lawsuit against UF because the school is violating a signed agreement. The university insists it has not signed any agreement and has been merely discussing the possibility of the event since Padgett broached the topic in early August.

McLaren insists that Spencer wants to appear at UF so he can have debates and share ideas, not to incite violence.

“There’s no reason why he should not be permitted to speak,” he said. “They think that because of the events in Charlottesville they have better standing to prevent Mr. Spencer from speaking, but that is not the case. The first amendment law in these cases is simple.”

Spencer’s other upcoming appearance, at Texas A&M for a “White Lives Matter” rally, was also canceled over safety concerns.

The rapidly growing “No Nazis at UF” counterprotest is still on, said organizer Mitch Emerson, “in preparation for a judicial ruling in favor of Richard Spencer.”

He doesn’t predict Spencer will be allowed a permit elsewhere in the city, especially because public safety is such a core issue. He said the rally will simply become a show of solidarity if Spencer isn’t allowed to come.

“We know the fight is far, far, far from over,” Emerson said. “We want to be ready for what comes next.”

Car plows into counter protesters during white nationalist rally in Virginia.

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