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Tensions high as UNF deals with racial threats, potential rally

Student, former KKK member, stands by his social media post

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News that a white supremacist protest may happen Monday morning at the University of North Florida is adding to a sense of fear on campus.

Three days after 37-year-old Ken Parker was suspended from the university for posting what the UNF called a "threatening message and a disturbing image" on social media, campus police are preparing for a possible rally supporting the self-proclaimed white supremacist.

A Facebook post is urging people to rally in support of Parker at 8:30 a.m., just before Parker is to appear at a conduct hearing. There is also talk of a counterprotest by those opposed to racism on campus, but university officials discourage that as it could provoke confrontation.

On Friday, UNF President John Delaney moved the hearing to Alumni Hall on Kernan Boulevard, away from the core of the campus. Campus police said officers will escort Parker to and from the hearing, and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office will also have a presence on campus Monday.

Delaney is also trying to quell fear, sending a letter to students, faculty and staff saying police presence Monday will be high.

“Please know we're working hard to ensure safety, while still following the required processes for student discipline," Delaney wrote.

Olivia Perryman, a freshman from West Palm Beach, is among those who became concerned when she heard a white supremacist protest may happen Monday.

"I did hear that and I’m kind of scared a little bit," Perryman said. "I’m trying to figure out how I can get around campus and not be frightened."

Rabbi Shmuli Novack, with Chabad at UNF, issued a statement Sunday, saying the organization has been counseling students and addressing concerns of worried families and friends. 

“We cannot sit idly by as banners of hate waved by the murderers of millions of Jews (are) raised in our midst,” Novack said. "We are grateful to President Delaney and the UPD for taking necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of all students. UNF continues to be welcoming of and an excellent choice for Jewish students.”

Click here for more information about Chabad at UNF. 

News4Jax first encountered Parker in 2015 when he, as a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, was distributing flyers in neighborhoods. Although he claimed others were in his group, he was the only one seen.

Earlier this week, Parker posted a photo of himself holding a gun on social media and made controversial comments on the Facebook page of the UNF campus publication, Spinnaker.

The university is investigating the posts as an act of racism.

UNF does have a diverse enrollment. This year, the student body is 10 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. By comparison, the University of Florida's black enrollment is 8 percent and Hispanic students represent 18 percent of its student body.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith questions whether Parker has many supporters.

"It’s hard to determine right now because we keep seeing the same person; (with) one or two people involved," Smith said. "It gives the appearance that it is a very small organization, but it’s hard to tell how much recruitment is going on."

University officials hope the protest will be small. So does Perryman, who just wants to get to class without any disruptions.

About the Author:

Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.