White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak Thursday in Florida, his first speech since the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Video provided by Newsy
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As the clocked ticked closer to white nationalist Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida, the campus was on edge amid concerns over potential violence between supporters and counterprotesters.
Students and faculty expressed fear and worry about Spencer’s Thursday appearance and the increased security presence.
“The students are scared, especially our students who are from minority communities,” said Vincent Adejumo, a lecturer in African-American studies. “Many of them have already left town. Parents have great concern.
“It’s basically a powder keg right now.”
Sophomore Rachel Guttman said her Jewish sorority advised its members against wearing their letters on Thursday. “Honestly, everyone’s kind of scared right now and we don’t know what to expect,” she said.
But there were signs of a unifying response and a desire to rebut hate speech and racism.
Painted sheets hang from the facades of fraternities and sororities at the University of Florida repeating “Love not hate #TogetherUF.”
Ahead of the speech, No Nazi UF hosted a teach-in Tuesday night with students, faculty and staff discussing the ideology Spencer espouses and the campus response to it.
Across the street from the 2,000-acre university, Florida Highway Patrol vehicles clogged the parking lot of the Hilton UF Conference Center Hotel and dozens of officers worked to secure the area.
In August, Spencer helped organize a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where Heather Heyer was killed by a car driven into demonstrators protesting the rally.
UF, the state’s second-largest university with more than 52,000 students, initially denied Spencer’s request to speak here in September, but in a letter to the UF community, president Kent Fuchs said the First Amendment required the university to allow the event.
The National Policy Institute, which Spencer runs, paid $10,564 to rent the 1,700-seat Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. No UF organization invited Spencer, the university said.
UF said it and law enforcement agencies will spend more than $500,000 on security for the event. At the request of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday.
Barricades went up Tuesday along the road to the Phillips Center, in the southwestern part of campus. The city will close part of 34th Street, the main road along the western edge of UF, and restrict traffic in the area around the center.
The security presence prompted a mixed response.
“It’s comforting to know that they’re there,” sophomore Tyler Kaplan. “If something were to happen, we’re the most prepared.”
Added freshman Sabrina Faks, “If anything, it’s kind of scary that they had to hire $500,000 worth of more security.”
The combination of the police presence and the state of emergency “gives off the feeling that something major is going to happen,” Adejumo said.
Fuchs has advised students to ignore the event while encouraging them to challenge Spencer’s “message of hate and racism.”
But that message is particularly harmful for certain groups on campus, Adejumo said.
“Many of these students, they’ve never seen anything like this ever,” Adejumo said. “So to say to just ignore it, you can’t just ignore it. I think that’s the wrong signal and message that the university is signaling to the students. Many of the students are from subjugated groups and you can’t just ignore the oppression that you’re feeling.”
Kaplan said his Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, has sent in a national representative “to watch over us” and that the fraternity asked university police for extra security.
In a letter he wrote to the community earlier this month, Fuchs encouraged members of the UF community to speak up for the values of the university.
“Make it clear that messages of hate on our campus are contrary to those values,” he said.
In addition to signs hung from fraternities and sororities, the #TogetherUF campaign is distributing “Gators Not Haters” T-shirts.
The Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student Center planned a “good deed marathon” for Thursday.
No Nazi UF started a change.org petition that had more than 3,500 supporters Wednesday morning calling for UF to prevent Spencer from speaking, and it has encouraged the peaceful protest of Spencer’s speech.
Florida does not plan to cancel classes on Thursday, though some buildings around the Phillips Center will be closed. Some students such as Guttman are still deciding whether they’ll leave campus before Spencer’s speech.
“I don’t feel unsafe,” Guttman said. “I just feel unsure of what could happen with an event like this.”
Follow Rachel Axon on Twitter: @RachelAxon
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Residents of Charlottesville, Va. mourn a day after violent ‘Unite the Right’ rally.
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Shreveport’s Vigil for Charlottesville | 1:36
Sunday evening at the Caddo Parish Courthouse
(Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)
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USA TODAY NETWORK/Junfu Han
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Charlottesville protester Chris Cantwell turns himself in
ACLU rethinks role after Charlottesville
Lee Statue Covered in Charlottesville
After Charlottesville, ESPN pulls announcer Robert Lee from UVA game
Charlottesville takes action to help mend the city after deadly rally
Trump lashes at media over Charlottesville
George and Amal Clooney pledge $1 million to ‘stand up to hate’
Anger boils over at Charlottesville City Council
Holocaust survivor reacts to violence in Charlottesville
How to talk to your kids about racism
Candles replace torches at Charlottesville vigil for peace
Trump disbands WH advisory panels as CEOs flee
Report: Bannon was proud of Trump’s Charlottesville remarks
Jesse Jackson slams Trump on Charlottesville
Heather Heyer’s mom: Heather’s message is ‘magnified’
Mike Pence: ‘I stand with President Trump’
WH urges GOP to say Trump was ‘entirely correct’ on Charlottesville
Heather Heyer’s mom: ‘We’re going to make it count’
Former Bush Presidents condemn racism after Charlottesville
Kaine: ‘Will not let anybody drag us backwards’
Heyer’s mom: ‘Find a way to make a difference’
Celebrities troll President Trump’s Charlottesville comments
After Charlottesville, Is ‘Stick to Sports’ Dead?
Parents of Heather Heyer pay tribute at memorial service
Obama’s response to Charlottesville violence is most liked tweet
Charlottesville victim’s stepdad says they’ve gotten death threats
‘Crown Heights’ cast says Charlottesville a ‘wake-up call’
Trump: Blame both sides for violence in Charlottesville
Virginia coach Tony Bennett releases statement on Charlottesville
Obama’s Charlottesville tweet is most liked, ever
Hacker group ‘Anonymous’ declares war on alt-right websites
Mom of injured Virginia man: ‘a cruel, cruel act’
Brawling continues near Va. Confederate statue
Explaining the alt-right’s philosophy
Jimmy Fallon gets emotional, addresses racism
Charlottesville police: ‘we were hoping for a peaceful event’
Three CEO’s quit Trump’s advisory council after Charlottesville
GoDaddy & Google ban hate-filled Neo-Nazi site
Mom of injured Virginia victim: ‘she’s my hero’
TIKI Brand condemns use of their torches for white nationalist rally
Virginia receives new request for rally at the Robert E. Lee monument
Trump addresses hate groups by name following Charlottesville deaths
Trump on Charlottesville violence: ‘Racism is evil’
Virginia courthouse scene of ongoing unrest
Atlanta protestors damage Confederate monument
VP Pence: ‘We have no tolerance for hate’
H.R. McMaster calls Charlottesville attack ‘terrorism’
Friend of Va. victim raises $60k for family
Charlottesville white supremacist protesters identified
Charlottesville vigil for protest crash victim
Teen Choice stars react to ‘heartbreaking’ Charlottesville events
Pence ‘takes issue’ with media after Charlottesville
Teacher: Va. ramming suspect idolized Hitler
Judge denies bail for Charlottesville car attack suspect
Mother of Charlottesville victim speaks out
WWII-era anti-Nazi movie goes viral after Charlottesville violence
Residents of Charlottesville mourn a day after violent ‘Unite the Right’ rally
Shreveport’s Vigil for Charlottesville
Watch: Charlottesville rally organizer run off from press conference
McAuliffe: Political rhetoric breeding bigotry, hatred
Report: Charlottesville suspect’s mom thought Rally was about Trump
Interview at church half mile from James Alex Fields Jr.’s last known address
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