Martin Luther King Jr. famously claimed, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” As UF President Kent Fuchs has repeatedly demonstrated since white supremacist Richard Spencer first announced his intention to invade Gainesville in August, he does not understand King’s words.
Instead, at every turn, Fuchs has opted for order rather than justice. Because of this, students, faculty and staff should call for Fuchs to resign and demand his replacement be selected not by UF’s Board of Trustees — rich flunkies for Gov. Rick Scott and his similarly well-heeled predecessors — but by democratically-elected representatives of UF’s stakeholders.
Fuchs’s pattern of betraying justice for order began early. When the National Policy Institute reapplied for access to the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts (after the organization had been denied access on public safety grounds in September) on Spencer’s behalf, Fuchs’ legal team initially mounted a fight. As soon as NPI looked poised to win in the courts, Fuchs caved and pre-emptively opened campus to America’s leading proponent of genocidal racism whose followers have already killed one campus protestor in recent months and who, statistically, represent a greater domestic terror threat than the Islamic State group.
What, in this instance, would justice rather than order have looked like? Justice would have required UF’s legal team to fight NPI until the bitter end, refusing to open campus to the forces of organized hate until ordered to do so by a judge. Justice, moreover, would have required Fuchs to defy the judge’s order and tell the courts that, before Spencer would be allowed to speak on his campus, the Board of Trustees would first have to forcibly remove him from office.
Defiance in the name of justice — that’s what a real leader would have demonstrated. But, instead, Fuchs doubled down on his commitment to order. Indeed, when UF finally announced Spencer would speak at the Phillips Center on Oct. 19, Fuchs not only conceded Florida’s citizens would pay half of a million dollars in security subsidy to people who want to murder or forcibly deport more than 1-in-3 Floridians, he also forcefully discouraged, in a series of statements and policy announcement, the one approach to organized fascism that has historically helped defeat it: nonviolent direct action. On the contrary, he threatened to penalize students, faculty and staff who chose to protest Spencer and his followers, threw his weight behind a series of events designed to siphon off protesters from the Phillips Center and banned protesters from bringing basic necessities (like water and backpacks) to what promised to be an hourslong series of demonstrations.
What, in this instance, would justice, rather than order, have looked like? Justice would have required Fuchs’ legal team to initiate a countersuit to recoup the $600,000 in security fees from Spencer’s contingent of genocidal racists. If that failed, Fuchs should have offered to pay the fees out of his own, bloated annual salary of $860,000. Justice would have required UF to take a leading role in financially bankrupting individuals and groups whose ideas have already been proved bankrupt by research like that conducted by UF scholars. Justice would have required Fuchs to enjoin students, faculty and staff to protest and to provide them with the training to do so safely and effectively. Justice would have required Fuchs himself to assume a prominent position at the head of the picket.
Fuchs did none of this. Instead, when he caught wind some of Gainesville’s most dedicated activists were planning to camp out at the Phillips Center box office overnight and get their hands on as many tickets to the event as they could, he promptly gave Spencer and the NPI control of the ticket distribution. No doubt Fuchs wanted to avoid a disorderly scene. He likely envisioned angry protesters, tired of being told they should listen quietly while deranged white men plot their death or deportation, lashing out at the outnumbered Nazi invaders.
By preventing such a scene, Fuchs once more prevented the UF community from establishing the positive presence of justice. Fascists are not defeated through civil debate. Their ideas are unworthy of the breath needed to debunk them. They are not defeated when people of conscience ignore them. The absence of protesters allows these toads to terrorize vulnerable populations at will and recruit new members to their cause. They have been and will be defeated through protest, through massive, angry, yet disciplined actions that surround and humiliate them, that make it clear when they gather, they will be outnumbered 10-to-1, 100-to-1 or more, and we will shout them down, ruin their photo ops, prevent them from terrorizing our neighbors and make them look like what they are: the utter dregs of a dying social order.
Fuchs could have played a role in this process.He could have worked infinitely harder to deny them a venue, and, if and when that failed, he could have taken a leading role in providing members of the UF community with the resources they needed to safely and effectively establish justice. Instead, predictably, he threw his weight on the side of order. Worse yet, in defending the so-called free speech rights of murderous conspirators, he denied or compromised the First Amendment rights of the communities he is supposed to represent. In doing so, he allowed fear to take root among many of UF’s most vulnerable communities.
For all these reasons, Fuchs must go. So, beginning immediately, students, faculty and staff should begin organizing a mass movement calling for Fuchs’ resignation. Once he has resigned, members of the UF community should then demand the Board of Trustees transfer responsibilities for hiring Fuchs’ replacement to democratic representatives of all UF stakeholders.
Until Fuchs goes, we may, at best, have order. But we most certainly will not have justice.
Jeremiah Tattersall is a Gainesville resident.