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The same day the largest white nationalist protest in years erupted in violence — a protester rammed his car into counter protesters, killing one — the University of Florida announced that the man behind the march wants to speak on campus, and the school might let him.
Richard Spencer, the self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right who explicitly calls for an all-white “ethnostate,” asked UF to speak on September 12 through his organization — the National Policy Institute. In a public letter, UF president Kent Fuchs said no student group asked for or sponsored Spencer’s speaking engagement, but the university is still obligated to let him talk.
“While this speaker’s views do not align with our values as an institution, we must follow the law, upholding the First Amendment not to discriminate based on content and provide access to a public space,” Fuchs wrote.
While UF is no stranger to controversial speakers met with counter-protesters, a vocal segment of the UF community believes Spencer’s appearance crosses the line between allowing “differing opinions” — as Fuchs put it — and giving hate speech a platform.
Spencer’s “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia began Friday night with a tiki-torch-lit procession to the confederate monument near the University of Virginia campus, Spencer’s alma mater. On Saturday, counter protesters clashed with the swastika-sporting white nationalists, leading the governor to declare a state of emergency around 11 a.m., an hour before the rally was set to start.
Videos posted online show alt-right protesters beating counter-protesters with poles, fist-fights breaking out between groups and even a protester pulling a gun on counter-protesters, with little police interference.
In hopes of avoiding similar violence, UF said it’s developing a security plan and working with other colleges across the county who’ve held similar events.
In April, Auburn University tried to block Spencer from appearing by citing safety concerns, but a court ruled in Spencer’s favor and forced the school to host the man who coined the term “alt-right” as a catchall for a loosely organized right-wing group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
A Facebook event created in opposition to Spencer’s appearance has hundreds of attendees already, with volunteers planning carpooling and protest techniques.
Spencer also plans to appear at Texas A&M University the day before his UF appearance for a “White Lives Matter” rally.