UF prepared for hostility ahead of white nationalist speech
GAINESVILLE, Fla. Snipers on a rooftop.
Law enforcement officers roaming campus two-by-two, guns clearly visible.
Armored vehicles parked around campus.
All were signs in the hours leading up to a speech from a prominent white supremacist that the University of Florida is making a concerted effort not to become the next Charlottesville.
The school has called in hundreds of law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and city sources with National Policy Institute president Richard Spencer scheduled to speak at 2:30 p.m. Thursday on campus.
Following the August violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one counter demonstrator dead, UF President W. Kent Fuchs said high security costs are required to ensure a reasonable amount of safety.
Streets will be blocked off, and movement around the campus tightly controlled.
“It’s really different,” student Cole Neff said. “We had to show ID to get into the library. Never had to do that before.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, saying a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, where the school is located. The order allowed local law enforcement to partner with other agencies.
No credible threat has been made against the university, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said. Still, the school is committing major money to prepare.
Fuchs estimates the school will spend $600,000 on security. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government, in this case a public university, cannot charge speakers for security costs.
Spencer’s National Policy Institute is paying $10,564 to rent space for the speaking event at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Fuchs said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press that Spencer is “hijacking” public universities and forcing taxpayers to pay the resulting security costs.
“I fully understand freedom of speech cannot be burdened legally with the full cost of this, but on the other hand we’re being burdened,” said Fuchs, sitting in his office on campus in Gainesville. “So taxpayers are subsidizing hate speech.”
Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who organized the event at University of Florida for Spencer, called the high security costs “discouraging,” and said anyone from either side who incites violence should be arrested.
“That money should be used for scholarships, more research or stay with the taxpayers. But at the end of the day free speech needs to be protected,” he said.
After Scott’s emergency declaration, Fuchs said the school received many calls from parents concerned about safety. Fuchs had told students prior to the governor’s announcement to go to class as usual, and said the campus would remain open.
But student Mia Chrisostimo said her classes were canceled.
“I’m planning on just staying in my dorm and trying not to go outside because I don’t really know what’s gonna happen,” she said.
Fuchs said he supported the governor’s decision because it was requested by law enforcement, but admitted it created challenges for his administration.
“Parents want to know, ‘Why is the governor declaring a state of emergency and yet you President Fuchs are saying my son or daughter should be going to class?’ That (announcement) elevated that tension, locally with parents and brought a national visibility to this,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs said he hopes the event will end up bringing the community closer together, and that it can be used to create a dialogue about race.
Student leaders are hosting a “virtual assembly” via Facebook during Spencer’s event to discuss race relations and diversity.
Items prohibited from Spencer’s speech, according to the university:
Weapons, firearms or simulated firearms, tasers, knives, sharp objects
• Lighters, matches, torches or open flame
• Any athletic equipment or other items which could be used as a weapon
• Masks of any kind, goggles, bandanas/scarfs, neck gaiters
• Flag Poles, bats, clubs, sticks (including sticks on signs)
• Aerosol/pressurized cans, mace
• Chains, padlocks, bicycle locks
• Backpacks, bags, purses, clutches
• Signs made of anything other than cloth, paper, foam core, cardboard
• Cans, metal or glass containers, premixed beverages or alcoholic beverages
• No water bottles of any kind
• Pop-up tents, canopies or hammocks
• Wagons or pull carts
• Drones or other unmanned aircraft systems
• Pets (excluding ADA service animals)
• Grills, propane tanks
• Bicycles, scooters, skateboards
• Tobacco products of any kind
• Laser pointers
• Water balloons
• Megaphones or other amplified sound devices
• Any other items that campus police determine pose a risk to safety or a disruption of classes or
vehicular or pedestrian traffic
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Trust WINK News to keep you up to date with team coverage from the University of Florida in Gainesville on air and online in this developing story.