Students and other audience members heavily booed white nationalist Richard Spencer on Thursday as he gave a speech at the University of Florida, where the atmosphere was tense but mostly peaceful as police in riot gear kept watch.
“We represent a new white America,” said one speaker who came onstage to introduce Spencer.
“Black lives matter,” student protesters responded. “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”
Later, Spencer’s supporters, some of whom filled the front rows of the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, chanted back: “You will not replace us!”
“Go home, Spencer!” protesters intoned after Spencer began speaking.
“You are trying to stifle our free speech,” Spencer said as the crowd continuously booed and chanted through his speech, in which he recited his ideas about the “ideal” of a white nation.
Police and media helicopters circled over the area Thursday as hundreds of protesters marched in opposition to Spencer’s appearance. Demonstrators were met by a blockade of police wearing riot gear.
“From what I’ve learned, this guy just preaches hate,” said one of the marchers, LaMonte Kendrick, 22, of Gainesville. “What he says doesn’t make sense. It’s like the ’60s or something. Gainesville’s already had enough hate and racism in its history.”
Spencer’s last major public appearance with other white nationalists ended with a deadly riot in Charlottesville, Va., in August.
Spencer gained national prominence in recent years for his support of President Donald Trump and for his views calling for a separate nation for white people. The apparent resurgence in white nationalism in the United States has sparked anti-supremacists to mobilize with their own efforts, including nonviolent demonstrations and pressure campaigns on companies providing services to white nationalists and sometimes violent attacks intended to drive them out of public spaces.
Spencer has turned his sights to public universities, where First Amendment protections of free speech limit officials’ ability to deny Spencer a platform. Officials at the Florida college have confirmed they’ve spent roughly $500,000 on security for the event, and police from around Florida gathered in Gainesville to assist local police.
About 700 free tickets were available for the event and were supposed to be distributed outside the venue on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Spencer’s website, AltRight.com. Weapons were banned from the event, along with a wide range of other items, including water bottles, masks, shields and hats.
“Everyone is welcome at #SpenceratUF,” Spencer tweeted before the event Thursday. “This is going to be an important dialogue for the entire community.”
SOURCE: Matt Pearce and Les Neuhaus
The Los Angeles Times