UPDATE: The lawyer defending Richard Spencer’s right to speak at UF has filed a formal demand on the university and if it is not accepted he plans to file a lawsuit “within the next day or two.”
White nationalist Richard Spencer, who led the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, intends to defy a decision by the University of Florida to keep him from speaking on campus next month, an event organizer said Wednesday.
Cameron Padgett, a 23-year-old Georgia State University finance student who has planned several events on university campuses across the country on Spencer’s behalf, and his lawyer, Gainesville-based first amendment specialist Gary Edinger, said they’re still negotiating with UF — but will go to court if necessary.
“I don’t think they want to go to court honestly, because they’ll lose,” he said, adding, “We’re still going to speak 100 percent.”
Earlier this month, UF President Kent Fuchs publicly denied the so-called “alt-right” leader’s request to speak on campus Sept. 12 because of “serious concerns for safety.” Spencer led the “Unite the Right” rally at the University of Virginia.
But Padgett and Edinger said they intend to press ahead with Spencer’s appearance that day, despite the university’s decision. Edinger said he spoke to the university’s general counsel on Wednesday about “areas of flexibility” in UF’s decision, and fileda formal demand on the university on Thursday for the right to speak on campus.
“We’re hoping they are going to change their mind,” Edinger said. “And if they do not we will address that in federal court.”
In the demand, Edinger said his client wants space for an audience of 400 and said he would be open to other venues on campus or dates Spencer could appear. If the university does not agree to host Spencer on campus, Edinger said he will file a lawsuit “within the next day or two.”
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the university said it is “prepared to vigorously defend our decision. The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority.”
A counter-protest — called “No Nazis at UF” on Facebook — also is still planned and more than 2,000 people have said they’re attending.
When he reached out to UF in the first place, Padgett said he signed a rental agreement for speaking rights at the Phillips Center on UF campus. University spokeswoman Janine Sikes said the document he signed was a preliminary estimate for facility costs, which came out to more than $6,000.
“No facility rental contract was ever executed,” Sikes said.
That document didn’t include security costs. Padgett said he expected to fight the university over the definition of “reasonable” security costs. He paid $40 per police officer per hour at Auburn University, where he successfully argued in court that the university violated his free speech by barring Spencer’s talk.
“Just because a lot of protesters are going to show up that’s not my fault,” he said. “I don’t have to pay for it.”
Before the topic could come up, UF decided against hosting Spencer.
Spencer ended up speaking in Auburn after a court overruled Auburn’s decision. He was introduced at the event by Padgett, who said he spoke about his favorite topic — free speech.
In addition to UF, Padgett is attempting to organize speaking events for Richard Spencer at Penn State and Michigan State University, both of which have said no to the event. He said he wouldn’t call himself “alt-right,” the name Spencer coined for the group of white nationalists, white supremacists and far right political activists, and instead identifies as a libertarian.
He said he doesn’t understand why people connect the alt-right to the Nazi movement, as many did when the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protesters sported swastikas and Hitler-themed clothing.
While eating dinner with Spencer, who has explicitly advocated for an all-white ethnostate achieved by “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” in Alexandria last week, Padgett said their meal totaled up to an $80 bill. They tipped their black waiter $30, Padgett said.
“Would a Nazi do that?” he said.