White nationalist heckled at University of Florida speech
Richard Spencer’s event at the university in Gainesville, which prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency to prepare for possible conflict, comes about two months after rallies by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to a deadly clash with counter-protesters.
The violence on Aug. 12 added fuel to a national debate on race, and Republican President Donald Trump came under fire for blaming both sides for the melee.
White supremacists have been working to bring Spencer to various public universities, saying he has a constitutional right to free speech. The effort has forced college leaders to allow what they see as hate speech on campus and provide security to prevent violent clashes.
On Thursday, several hundred protesters shouting “We don’t want your Nazi hate” marched outside a campus performing arts centre where Spencer spoke.
A man hired as security for media was arrested for illegally carrying a firearm on campus, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said. Another man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with swastikas emerged from a crowd of protesters with a bloody lip.
“There were a few scuffles, but for the most part it was an extremely peaceful event,” said Chris Sims, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
Inside the venue, Spencer and protesters yelled at one another, and he criticized them for trying to suppress his speech.
“I’m not going home,” said Spencer, who heads the National Policy Institute, a nationalist think tank, and promoted the Charlottesville rally. “We are stronger than you and you all know it!”
He appeared to have few supporters in the crowd. About 15 white men, all dressed in white shirts and khaki pants, raised their hands when Spencer asked who identified with the alt-right, a loose grouping characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.
Spencer left the campus soon after the event ended, university public safety officials said on Twitter. Police worked to separate those who attended the event as they left the venue from protesters gathered nearby.
Anais Edwards, 26, who works in software compliance, was inside the venue and supported those trying to disrupt Spencer.
“I’m really proud of how our community came together. Many of them were willing to stand up and not let him speak,” Edwards said.
The university said it did not invite Spencer to speak, but was obligated by law to allow the event. The school said it will spend more than $500,000 on security, and the National Policy Institute is paying more than $10,000 to rent the facility and for security within the venue.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors U.S. hate groups, said Spencer is “a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America.”
An outspoken supporter of Trump during the 2016 campaign, Spencer rose from relative obscurity after widely circulated videos showed some Trump supporters giving Nazi-style salutes to Spencer during a gathering in Washington to celebrate the Republican candidate’s win. Trump condemned the meeting.
University President Kent Fuchs urged students not to attend the event and denounced Spencer’s white nationalism.
“I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message,” Fuchs said on Twitter on Thursday.
The death in Charlottesville, home to the flagship campus of the University of Virginia, occurred as counter-protesters were dispersing. A 20-year-old man who is said by law enforcement to have harboured Nazi sympathies smashed his car into the crowd, killing a 32-year-old woman.
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)