White supremacist Richard Spencer, whose controversial opinions and public speaking engagements have resulted in widespread criticism and protests, has reached out to the University of Florida regarding a planned public speaking event.
As detailed on the university’s Facebook page (as well as through an email distributed to students and faculty), UF President W. Kent Fuchs has explained that the National Policy Institute has been in contact in order to reserve space for a speaking event, which it plans to host on September 12. The National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank headquartered in Alexandra, Virginia, is led by Spencer himself, who serves as its president.
In his letter, Fuchs explains that per university regulations, non-university groups are allowed to rent space on campus, assuming that they cover all expenses, including security costs.
“Per university regulation 2.004, non-university groups, organizations and persons may rent space on campus, provided they cover rental expenses and security costs like all other third-party renters.
“UF administration, staff and campus police are developing a security plan for the potential event and are working with colleagues across the country who have had similar events on their campus.”
This announcement follows in the wake of the tragic events which have broken out in Charlottesville, Virginia. Violence and riots broke out in response to a rally protesting the planned removal of a local statue of Robert E. Lee. Yesterday afternoon, a man intentionally drove his car into a group of counter-protestors, injuring 19, and killing one.
— ABC News (@ABC) August 13, 2017
Earlier in the day, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, due to concerns that the public could not be protected without additional countermeasures. Before the scheduled start of the rally, attacks broke out between protestors and counter-protestors, which included not only physical attacks, but the use of chemical sprays against one another.
Shortly after, the Virginia State Police declared the gathering as an unlawful assembly, while riot police began to clear the area.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 13, 2017
While the planned event has not been confirmed by either the University of Florida or the National Policy Institute, students and local residents have already begun to make plans. A Facebook event, titled “No Nazis At UF” has sprung up, with plans to protest the (potential) public speech.
In the aforementioned announcement, President Fuchs has also urged the campus community to send a strong message by not engaging with Spencer and his group, as he explains that the message of intolerance and hate will only spread through increased media coverage.
“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.
“Though we have a responsibility as a public university, we also have a vital duty to our students, faculty and staff to uphold our educational mission.
“Instead of allowing hateful speech to tear us down, I urge our campus community to join together, respect one another and promote positive speech, while allowing for differing opinions. These types of groups want media attention. I encourage our campus community to send a message of unity by not engaging with this group and giving them more media attention for their message of intolerance and hate.”
Those looking for more information and future updates should follow the university’s official Facebook page.
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]