White nationalist Richard Spencer to noisy Florida protesters: You didn’t shut me down – Los Angeles Times
Students and other audience members heavily booed white nationalist Richard Spencer on Thursday as he gave a speech at the University of Florida, where the atmosphere was tense but mostly peaceful as police in riot gear kept watch.
âWe represent a new white America,â said one speaker who came onstage to introduce Spencer.
âBlack lives matter,â student protesters responded. âBlack lives matter! Black lives matter!â
Later, Spencerâs supporters, some of whom filled the front rows of the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, chanted back: âYou will not replace us!â
âGo home, Spencer!â protesters intoned after Spencer began speaking.
âYou are trying to stifle our free speech,â Spencer said as the crowd continuously booed and chanted through his speech, in which he recited his ideas about the âidealâ of a white nation.
Police and media helicopters circled over the area Thursday as hundreds of protesters marched in opposition to Spencerâs appearance. Demonstrators were met by a blockade of police wearing riot gear.
âFrom what Iâve learned, this guy just preaches hate,â said one of the marchers, LaMonte Kendrick, 22, of Gainesville. âWhat he says doesnât make sense. Itâs like the â60s or something. Gainesvilleâs already had enough hate and racism in its history.â
Spencerâs last major public appearance with other white nationalists ended with a deadly riot in Charlottesville, Va., in August.
Spencer gained national prominence in recent years for his support of President Trump and for his views calling for a separate nation for white people. The apparent resurgence in white nationalism in the United States has sparked anti-supremacists to mobilize with their own efforts, including nonviolent demonstrations and pressure campaigns on companies providing services to white nationalists and sometimes violent attacks intended to drive them out of public spaces.
Spencer has turned his sights to public universities, where 1st Amendment protections of free speech limit officialsâ ability to deny Spencer a platform. Officials at the Florida college have confirmed theyâve spent roughly $500,000 on security for the event, and police from around Florida gathered in Gainesville to assist local police.
About 700 free tickets were available for the event and were supposed to be distributed outside the venue on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Spencerâs website, AltRight.com. Weapons were banned from the event, along with a wide range of other items, including water bottles, masks, shields and hats.
âEveryone is welcome at #SpenceratUF,â Spencer tweeted before the event Thursday. âThis is going to be an important dialogue for the entire community.â
Police corralled protesters into a single line outside the venue and turned away attendees for various reasons, including a military veteran who walked with a cane, which was deemed a potential weapon. One woman said she was denied entry by Spencerâs supporters at the gate because she was with an African American man. Some journalists with cameras and notebooks were denied access but were allowed entry without those items.
Inside the auditorium, a group of Spencerâs supporters sat close to the stage, while the audience of protesters sat toward the back, separated from Spencer and his proponents by rows of empty seats and a cordon of police.
Spencer initially protested the boos as suppression of his speech but later began taking questions from audience members who variously asked why he hadnât left yet or how he could form a white ethno-state without performing violent ethnic cleansing. Many in the audience protested by standing during his speech and holding up their fists, the symbol of black power.
One questioner who introduced himself as a son of immigrants told Spencer he was disappointed with the crowdâs protests, saying he wanted to engage in a dialogue.
Another introduced herself as a âbeautiful brown womanâ of Egyptian and Puerto Rican descent. She thanked Spencer for coming, and asked, âHow did it feel to get punched in the face on camera?â
The student was referring to a viral video of Spencer being struck by an anti-fascist in Washington, D.C., on the day of Trumpâs inauguration. Her question drew a cheer from the crowd.
âIt hurt,â Spencer said. âYeah, it hurts when someone punches you in the face. Is that a real question?â
Spencer added: âWhatâs the point of such a question? Are you threatening me with violence? â¦ Do you all want to get your hands dirty? Are you really willing to do something like that, or do you just want to shout self-righteously?â
The womanâs question was the final one during Spencerâs 90-minute appearance. He thanked the crowd for coming, and to protesters, he said: âYou think that you shut me down? Well, you didnât. You actually even failed at your own game. â¦ The world is not going to be proud of you.â
Spencer left campus shortly afterward as the audience filed out.
Outside the venue, where hundreds of protesters gathered, small scuffles broke out when one man with swastikas on his shirt walked through the center of the crowd, seeming to relish the startled and appalled reactions of protesters. He was escorted away after someone punched him in the face, according to reporters on the scene.
Only one arrest appeared to take place before Spencerâs appearance. Police said a security guard, hired by a media outlet covering the event, had illegally brought a gun on campus.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Alachua County on Monday, saying in his executive order that a âthreat of a potential emergency is imminent,â and that law enforcement must defend âpublic safety and security will be safeguarded and critical infrastructure, and public and private property will be protected.â
The measures, which came at the request of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, are not in response to any specific threats, according to the sheriffâs and governorâs offices.
University officials announced that most classes would meet as normal Thursday. The school asked students to boycott Spencer, whose views university President W. Kent Fuchs has described as ârepugnant.â
A group calling itself âNo Nazis at UFâ planned to stage a protest outside the event. About 3,000 people indicated on Facebook they planned to participate. Students also staged a sit-in at a student senate meeting earlier in the week.
The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer urged Spencer supporters who couldnât get tickets to carry out âflash mobsâ throughout the city, including at a Jewish center, a black culture center and the Gainesville Sun newspaper, though as Spencer gave his speech, no such events appeared to have taken place.