White nationalist shouted down at UF speech
Protesters decry 'Nazi hate' inside, outside Richard Spencer's talk
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – With hundreds of protestors marching with signs outside, more than half the crowd inside a University of Florida auditorium rose to their feet to boo and chant, "Go home Spencer" and "Let’s go Gators! Orange and Blue!” trying to stop white nationalist Richard Spencer and tried to drown out his speech.
Thursday afternoon's talk was Spencer's first planned speech on a college campus since he and others participated in the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August that ended in violence in the streets and one death.
When Spencer took the stage about 2:45 p.m., more than half the crowd took to their feet, many with fists in the air, and tried to drown him out. Calling the audience a "mob," Spencer taunted them.
"Are you adults? Are you ready to think for yourself? It doesn't look like it," Spencer said. "Why do you think that you need to suppress speech? The answer is because you know that what I'm saying is true. We are stronger than you."
Attempting to speak over the derisive shouts and chants from a diverse and hostile crowd at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Spencer and others attempted to preach about what they called the failure of diversity and the success of identity politics.
"I came here and I could not even hear what he was saying," said Alison Wilfong, a UF student in the audience. "I wish I had ear plugs."
The perpetual heckling quashed much of the dialogue, angering Spencer, who mocked the university students throughout his remarks.
“You think that you shut me down, but you didn't. You even failed in your own game,” Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, told the crowd before departing. “The world is going to look at this event and the world is going to have a very different impression … and the world is not going to be proud of you.”
UF student Jawanza Tucker said Spencer's words did not hurt.
"Not at all," Tucker told News4Jax. "It didn't bother me. I just went in with a clean mind and open ears."
Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, host of The Right Stuff podcast, told the crowd that their chants and actions are "the best recruiting tool you can ever give us.”
Spencer, who describes himself as an “identitarian,” whose supporters chanted “Jews will not replace us” at the Charlottesville rally that turned deadly this summer, has been labeled an anti-Semite and white supremacist by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.
"I'm not going home, I will stand here all day if I have to," a combative Spencer told Thursday's crowd.
One of those being disruptive during the speech felt like their effort was successful.
"It was an entire hour-and-a-half, two hours, and no one got thrown out, so I think he exactly got what he wanted," UF graduate Brian Flannery said. "I’m pretty sure this entire ordeal was calculated. I think we did a great job at sort of shutting him down."
Outside, hundreds stood in protest on a barricaded street where law enforcement from throughout the state stood watch, on the road, on roofs, in nearby woods, in helicopters and through drones. Gov. Rick Scott had earlier in the week declared a state of emergency for Alachua County in advance of Spencer's appearance.
While Scott's emergency declaration helped to increase tension across campus, Thursday's event was relatively calm and resulted in just two arrests, according to the Alachua County Sheriff's office.
One man was charged with resisting an officer without violence, according to the sheriff's office. Another man was arrested for carrying a firearm on campus, a violation of state law. According to the sheriff's office, Sean Brijmohan, a 28-year-old from Orlando, said he was an armed security guard hired by the media.
Inside, about 30 white-shirted supporters lined the front two rows, cheering Spencer and other speakers during the 90-minute event. Those in the front rows were separated by several empty rows from the more inflamed audience members that were targeted by the speakers for supporting “anti-white” diversity. News4Jax did see police escort one Spencer supporter from the hall during his speech.
Many students and faculty strongly opposed Spencer's appearance, which UF President Kent Fuchs and others urged the university community to boycott.
The school had initially denied Spencer's request to speak. But Fuchs has noted that, while Spencer's appearance isn't sponsored by any student group, the public university couldn't lawfully prohibit the event based on the content or views expressed in the speech.
During his speech, Spencer said he was glad Fuchs “stood behind him” and allowed the event to go on. His remarks drew a hasty rebuke from Fuchs.
“For the record, I don't stand behind racist Richard Spencer. I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer's vile and despicable message,” Fuchs tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Matt Rawlson, a freshman from Orlando majoring in communications and history, said Spencer's grasp of history appears “impressive,” but the message remains “despicable.”
“The protests were incredible, it was astounding just how loud it was,” said Rawlson, who said he attended to hear what Spencer had to say. “It was too loud at some points to my liking, but I think overall I'm very, very proud of the student body and the university as a whole.”
Spencer said those in the audience, many of them students, were acting like “childlike Antifa” -- anti-fascists -- and that all the world will hear is “a bunch of screeching and grunting morons.”
His jibes were delivered over a crowd whose chants included “Nazis are not welcome here,” “go home Spencer,” and “black lives matter,” accompanied by raised fists and middle fingers.
The crowd also blamed Spencer for the death at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August, when Heather Heyer was killed after a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters. Dozens of others were injured.
The “moron” comment drew cheers from some in the crowd, which then broke into a chant of, “Let's go Gators, let's go.” That prompted Spencer to jab back, saying, “Nothing says committed leftist like supporting a football program.”
During a question-and-answer session following his speech, Spencer was asked “Why do you think you're welcome here when it took a court order to get you here?” Another opponent asked Spencer if he believed “the words that come out of your mouth.” Another wanted to know, “Am I white enough?"
Before he appeared on the stage, Spencer was unapologetic about his views. He said nonwhites, who favor mass immigration and multiculturalism and global America, have other countries in which they can reside.
“It would be a much more peaceful world, it would be a much more meaningful world for all human beings, it would be a better and more beautiful world if people like me were in power,” Spencer said.
He and a group of his supporters, who joined him onstage during the press conference, disavowed they were responsible for violence at past events.
He said he initially believed his college tour, where “controversial and dangerous” could be discussed, would be easy.
But Spencer said he has found “roadblocks at every place along the way.”
“I am bringing ideas that are not being taught in this stifling, PC, academic environment we all live through,” Spencer claimed.
Police and state troopers controlled the flow of movement for blocks in every direction as tickets to the event were distributed. It appeared that most of people in the streets were opposed to Spencer's white nationalist message.
JUST IN: Man with gun detained outside Richard Spencer event on UF campus. Police say it's a felony to have a weapon on campus. The man tells WJXT4 Vic Micolucci he's private security for a news outlet. MORE INFO: http://bit.ly/2zAmIFY?source=facebook&medium=snd&campaign=wjxt4Posted by WJXT4 The Local Station / News4JAX on Thursday, October 19, 2017
UF students attended classes Thursday on a campus outwardly expressing messages of love against the backdrop of a heavily armed law enforcement presence and the specter of a divisive midafternoon speech by Spencer.
The Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student Center had been open since Wednesday for a three-day “Good Deed Marathon,” which drew praise from Fuchs.
“Another example of countering darkness with Light on Oct. 19,” Fuchs, who had repeatedly called on students to boycott Spencer's speech and “his racist and anti-American message,” tweeted Wednesday night of the “Good Deed Marathon.”
Banners hung outside fraternity and sorority houses around campus called for “Love Not Hate #TogetherUF.”
Just before 11:30 a.m., the first of Spencer's supporters, claiming they "like being part of a collective," arrived. At the same time, the first protesters showed up, one carrying a sign stating "No Trump Nazis."
Before the Thursday afternoon speech in Gainesville, streets near the Phillips Center were barricaded. Heavily outfitted law enforcement, some carrying riot helmets, marched along roads near the performing arts center.
Hundreds of journalists from around the globe inundated the campus of the state's premiere university.
Some facilities near the center were closed, but the campus remained open, adding to the anxiety of students and faculty, many of whom strongly objected to the university allowing Spencer to appear.
While touring barricaded roads near the performing arts center and away from the heart of campus, Jawamza Tucker, a 21-year-old telecommunications major from Miami, said that the university has been calm during the past week.
The emergency declaration issued by Scott “kind of set a precedent,” he said.
“A lot of my friends are telling me to be careful, and I'm not taking their words lightly, but I'm not worried,” said Tucker, who said he intends to “observe” the event. “I will proceed with caution. You never know what people have up their sleeves.”
Spencer, Tucker said, “feels threatened,” adding that the UF appearance won't change things.
“This is, honestly, just one big event to get attention, to increase his platform, to increase his notoriety and infamy,” Tucker said.
The school charged Spencer's National Policy institute more than $10,000 to rent the building, but security costs for the UF event have grown to $600,000. An estimated 500 law enforcement officers from the around the state were reportedly on campus Thursday.
It is unknown exactly how many of Spencer's supporters attended the speech.
Organizers of the event decided to distribute tickets to the speech, instead of the typical process in which the center provides the tickets, after reports that ticketholders could exchange the passes for free beer or even money.
A group called No Nazis at UF, which called for classes to be canceled and asserted that their mobilization kept “fascists” from marching Wednesday night, used Facebook to plan a demonstration for Thursday. More than 1,000 people expressed interest for the event.
University graduate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is among state leaders, including Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who urged students to boycott Spencer's event.
“#GatorNation not asking u to ignore his racist message.” Rubio tweeted Wednesday. “I am suggesting you embarrass him by denying him the attention he craves.”
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