White nationalist Richard Spencer asked the University of Florida to speak on campus on October 19.
The university, which previously turned down Spencer’s Sept 12 request over safety concerns, said it supports the constitutional right to free speech, even speech it “deplores.”
“As a public institution, UF is required by law to make a good faith effort to provide options for a reasonable date, time and campus venue, no matter how much we detest the points of views expressed. As with any event, we also have a responsibility to assess safety and security risks, and will continue to do so until the event,” UF wrote in a statement.
Spencer, a leader of the self-branded “alt-right” coalition of white nationalists, white supremacists and far-right activists, headed the “Unite the Right” rally that sparked the violence in Charlottesville. In the chaos at the University of Virginia, a counter protester was killed when a white nationalist rammed her with his car.
The tense atmosphere following Charlottesville, as well as posts on internet forum 4chan calling Gainesville “the next battleground,” led to UF denying Spencer speaking space on the campus’ Phillips Center. That denial led to threats of a federal lawsuit from Gainesville free speech lawyer Gary Edinger on behalf of Spencer and his National Policy Institute.
Edinger, who said he disagrees with his client’s speech but supports his right to say it, represents Cameron Padgett, the 23-year-old Georgia State University finance major who organizes speaking events on Spencer’s behalf. When Auburn University tried to bar Spencer from renting space on campus, a judge sided with Padgett on free speech grounds and forced the university to host the white nationalist.
Padgett has a pending federal lawsuit against Michigan State University over the same issue, and has been turned down from renting speaking space at Penn State University as well.