In a long skirt and a blue T-shirt with the slogan “Ho No Mo,” ‘Sister Cindy’ pranced inside a circle of more than 500 students, blocking the walkways of Plaza of Americas Monday afternoon.
“Welcome to the ho no mo’ revolution!” she shouted.
Cindy Smock, an evangelical street preacher with more than 350,000 TikTok followers, screamed and sobbed through a loudspeaker, while transgender, queer and Soviet Union flags waved in protest. Students cheered for the viral preacher’s graphic sermon criticizing people for teaching “WAP-ism” and urging students to not get a “masters in oral sex.”
Smock has made a national college campus tour shaming students’ sexuality and blasting Jesus’ name. Her travels brought her back to UF, where she studied journalism until 1979 before dropping out. There she met her street preacher husband and even wrote for The Alligator.
Two years later, in 1981, she returned to Plaza of Americas, on a similar Fall semester Monday, bringing her same anti-sex rhetoric and crowd of jeering students.
This week, students stood on Plaza benches for at least two days to peer at Smock publicly breakdown while degrading female students.
Opinions about her time on campus differ. Some believe she is advancing bigotry while others say listening to rhetoric like hers strengthens their beliefs.
Students are not attending to listen to what Smock has to say, said Aron Ali-McClory, 19-year-old UF Communist Party president. They’re there for entertainment.
“I think the university is under pressure as an institution and as an institution beholden to the republican state government to protect what they call freedom of speech,” McClory said. “Which includes and encompases preachers harassing people.”
Students fought fire with fire, or in this case, satire with satire. Throughout Smock’s sermons, students asked for Smock’s pronouns, whether she's a “top or a bottom” and if she would peg them.
Loud-mouthed sermons are nothing new.
Religion professor David G. Hackett sees the connection between Smock’s profitable street preaching and Christianity’s changing landscape in the 1500’s.
Then the idea that the afterlife is set in stone gave the faithful anxiety. As part of the dawn of capitalism, economic success and salvation went hand and hand, Hackett said.
Economic success meant a higher likelihood of getting into heaven. Smock’s preaching has also brought her profit, through her online notoriety and merch sales.
“They're willing to shape their message to the media to an alarming extent to gain greater market share … and there's something corrupt about that,” Hackett said, referencing the Smocks.
Hackett recognizes the importance of engaging with people who challenge his worldview. Talking to people with different ideologies is difficult, he said. In fact, he avoids them.
“That would take a lot of listening and a lot of willing to tolerate points of view different from your own,” Hackett said. “I think we need to do that.”
At one point, Smock talked about what she pegged as a college student’s typical date.
“Don’t you dare take that girl to a Mexican restaurant,” she cautioned the crowd. “If you buy her one margarita, she will spread her legs.”
University Police Department officers were not present during Monday’s 4-hour-long demonstration.
Demonstrators who are not affiliated with UF and are disrupting campus activity by obstructing traffic or using unpermitted loudspeakers will be asked to leave, according to campus policy. In some cases, they may be arrested.
UPD did not receive any calls about disturbances, so there was no reason for police to act, Sergeant Chad Holway wrote in an email.
“The entire campus is considered a free speech area protected under the first amendment,” wrote Sergeant Chad Holway. “So people are free to stand on whatever sidewalk or outdoor area they want and speak to whomever they want.”
Other students, like Brianna Kessler, a 20-year-old horticultural science major, believe Smock and George Edward “Brother Jed” Smock, her husband, are rightfully exercising their freedom of speech and encouraging students to question their beliefs.
Smock’s crowd dwindled slightly by Wednesday, but the cheers continued.
“Just because people are cheering doesn’t mean you have to cheer too,” said Layla Slate, a women's studies junior.
Slate called out “Brother Jed” Tuesday for mentioning students’ breast size in a discussion about what he believes men typically look for in a relationship. Cindy Smock called her a “blood drinking sl** vampire.”
“Obviously what they're saying is a misinterpretation of a lot of stuff,” she said. “It's very bio essentialist. And it's insulting.”
Because everything on the internet is based on likes and interactions, shocking rhetoric like Smock’s is easy to engage with as lighthearted, Slate said.
To Slate, it’s important to tell campus preachers that their actions are not as helpful as they believe.
Throughout the demonstrations, the Smocks took turns. While “Brother Jed” was resting on one of the nearby benches during his break, Slate approached him and told him that their rhetoric is harmful.
He downplayed Slate’s criticism and accepted some students’ request to take a selfie.
“Brother Jed” said he and Smock realize the crowd of students are making fun of them – they don’t care.
“Do you realize a lot of her speaking is satirical?” he said.
The pair doesn’t mind the hecklers. It gets people listening, liking their posts and buying their merch.
Contact Fernando at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of "David Hackett." A previous version of the article reported otherwise.