JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of people carrying signs and walking behind a banner identifying them with Students for a Democratic Society approached the University of North Florida Alumni Center Monday where a conduct hearing was to be held for a self-proclaimed white supremacist student who was suspended last week for making a social media post described as threatening.
"No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA," the demonstrators shouted.
"The greatest part of what it is to be an American is our diversity," protestor Mark Ari said. "Our welcoming of others -- not just tolerating of others, but the empathetic understanding of others. And to stand against the people who would tear down that really terrific creed."
According to the university, there were four people who showed up to support for Ken Parker, the student who was suspended after posting what the UNF's president called a "threatening message and a disturbing image" on social media.
"There’s a precedent to be set here. You can’t just go around kicking people out of school because of how they believe. It’s not right and it’s unAmerican" Parker supporter Burt Colucci said. "We are absolutely not going to be bullied by the communists that stand over there with the Antifa flag and other people who think that the laws in this country only apply to them or the First Amendment only applies to the things they like are being said."
Parker, 37, was escorted to and from the hearing by campus police, who prepared for possible rallies by those supporting and condemning him. News4Jax saw Parker giving a Nazi salute to the crowd as he was driven away.
SKY4 aerials showed several UNF and about 50 Jacksonville Sheriff's Office cruisers placed around the building. News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said police had a well thought-out and executed plan to minimize any chance of trouble.
"He was escorted by JSO SWAT members. They had him in the car, got him in here and got him out quickly," Smith said. "By the time he hit the traffic light near the building, they had on the property and in the building in 20 seconds."
No violence, no injuries and no arrests were reported.
"The University Police Department did a terrific job in coordinating with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in a display of police presence, including police patrols in the core of campus," UNF President John Delaney said. "I would like to thank both departments for their professionalism."
Delaney said Parker appealed his suspension before a four-member panel in a hearing that lasted a little more than an hour. He was to be notified by email either late Monday or Tuesday of the university's decision.
Parker declined an interview with News4Jax about how the hearing went, saying he did not want to speak to the media.
Delaney had the hearing moved to the Alumni Center, moving any possible confrontation away from the core of campus. The university also set up a Gratitude Monday event outside the student union, offering free coffee and donuts to students who wanted to avoid the chaos of the protests and support the a culture of peace among students.
Unions representing UNF's faculty and staff put out a joint statement: "We, the employees of the University of North Florida, stand with UNF President John Delaney in opposition to racism, bigotry and violence."
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.”
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.
Early last 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.
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.