A leader of a white nationalist organization, who participated in the violent Charlottesville, Virginia rallies Saturday, is arranging to speak at UF next month.
Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, an organization that lobbies for the “people of European descent in the United States,” is attempting to speak at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts at an unknown time Sept. 12, said UF spokesperson Janine Sikes.
UF is not affiliated with Spencer and no student groups are sponsoring the event, UF President Kent Fuchs wrote in an email sent to UF students Saturday afternoon. He said the university has a First Amendment obligation to let Spencer speak.
Sikes said Spencer’s reservation of the Philips Center is tentative. UF hasn’t signed a contract or received payment from the National Policy Institute, but the process should be finalized in a week, she said.
“I think it’s really important to point out that nothing is confirmed yet, and if they come, they will pay the appropriate fees,” she said, adding that payment would cover security and rent for the facility.
Sikes said the price to rent the facility is undetermined, and the price for security will be undecided until UF speaks with law enforcement.
UF regulation specifies that people or organizations that are unaffiliated with UF can rent space on campus if they pay for facilities and security, Sikes said.
In his email to students, Fuchs called Spencer’s presence “deeply disturbing.”
“I again denounce all statements and symbols of hate,” he said.
Sikes said UF will likely consult law enforcement to ensure the event doesn’t turn violent. At the white supremacy rally at the University of Virginia this weekend, at least three people died and dozens were injured, according to the Los Angeles Times. The governor declared a state of emergency in response to the fighting.
Multiple arrests were made, including the arrest of James O’Brien from Gainesville. He was charged with carrying a concealed handgun, according to Virginia State Police.
The day’s worst injuries came when a car drove directly into a group of protesters, killing one and injuring 19, according to the New York Times.
Spencer fought with police at the rally, according to the Los Angeles Times. On his Twitter, Spencer blamed local police and protesters for the bloodshed and retweeted praise for himself and David Duke, a former KKK leader who also attended the rally. Spencer previously led a torch-lit rally in May protesting the sale of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville.
When Spencer went to speak at Auburn University in April, officials cited safety concerns and canceled the event, according to CNN. However, a judge sided with Spencer and said the university had to host him.
After learning of Spencer’s plans to speak at UF, Mitch Emerson, an Orlando-based political organizer, created a Facebook event called “No Nazis at UF — Protest Richard Spencer,” on Saturday morning. More than 700 people said they were “going” and about 1,700 said they were “interested” in the event, as of Saturday night.
Emerson said he found out about the tentative event after a late-night talk with a UF official, who Emerson declined to name.
Emerson said he was concerned because no public information about the event was available.
“I was disgusted and upset,” he said. “I wanted to make sure the community was aware of it.”
Emerson said Spencer represents a hate group interested in discussing the oppression of people of color. He said UF shouldn’t allow the event to take place because it endangers students and Gainesville residents.
“It’s not appropriate for groups like this to visit a university campus,” Emerson said. “It’s as if I was to hold an event with 300 people and then yell, ‘Fire!’ to create panic — the event is unsafe.”
Emerson said he believes UF should notify students, university employees and local organizations whenever a hate group shows interest in holding an event. He said this would allow for protesters to organize.
Chase Werther, a UF philosophy junior, said UF should prevent Spencer from speaking on campus to avoid violence. She said she believes there should be something the UF president or the dean of students can do, although she isn’t sure what.
She said although she’s afraid the counter-protest will turn violent, she plans to attend anyway because she feels it’s her moral obligation.
“It’s important to send a message that this isn’t normal, and it’s not acceptable,” the 20-year-old said.
After reading Fuchs’ email, Werther said she had mixed feelings. Said said although she’s happy Fuchs denounced Spencer, she said she didn’t like that Fuchs asked everyone to be respectful of each other’s opinions, because people should not listen to white supremacists.
“That email is empty,” she said.
Werther said there have been multiple hateful acts on campus, like the noose found in a classroom and the swastika-wearing man on campus, and that UF’s only response has been to send an email.
“He’s just a talking head, but he’s not committed,” Werther said. “It doesn’t seem like he actually does anything about it.”