Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white supremacist think tank, is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida later this week.
Spencer was scheduled to speak at the university in September, but after the death of Heather Heyer amid violence in Charlottesville, UF cancelled the event. However, Gainesville-based lawyer, Gary Edinger, threatened the school with a lawsuit, claiming that denying the event was a violation of the First Amendment. Since then, the event has been rescheduled and will take place on Thursday, Oct. 19.
UF President W. Kent Fuchs has not only been complicit in allowing neo-Nazis a platform for hate speech and violence, but has taken measures that actively support Spencer and the NPI.
The idea that Spencer should be given any sort of platform at all is outrageous. Spencer is an unabashed white supremacist; a fascist who calls for ethnic cleansing and denies the humanity of anyone who is not a an able-bodied man of European descent. Spencer’s racist ideology is inherently violent and should not constitute protected free speech.
After hearing about Spencer’s event, some local businesses aimed to undermine it by throwing away tickets. Gainesville brewery Alligator offered a free beer in exchange for two tickets to the event in an effort to empty the Phillips Center during Spencer’s talk. But now, tickets have been handed over to Spencer and the NPI for complete control of distribution, despite the fact that this is in direct violation of the rental contract between NPI and UF.
Additionally, UF will be spending upwards of $500,000 on the event, money which just as easily could have been spent on legal fees to prevent Spencer from speaking there in the first place. Fuchs has also discouraged protest, saying in an email sent to students and faculty that protest only gives Spencer “further visibility,” as if Fuchs himself is not the one granting white supremacists visibility to begin with. The event will also be disrupting hospital schedules, as UF Health Florida Surgical Center, UF Health Shands Children’s Surgical Center and UF Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Institute will be rescheduling all appointments that day at three of its facilities in the area due to traffic concerns.
In anticipation of protests, the University of Florida Police Department (UPD) has circulated a list of prohibited items, which includes common items such as water bottles and backpacks, with the last item on the list being “any other items that campus police determine pose a risk to safety.” Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and Florida Legal Services, who are assisting campus and local organizations that will be protesting the event, wrote a joint letter to UPD questioning the constitutionality of many elements of the list and arguing that aspects of it were overly broad.
UF should have followed other public universities, such as Michigan State, Louisiana State, Texas A&M and Penn State, in not welcoming Spencer to their campuses, but Fuchs has now made it abundantly clear that he does not stand with marginalized students. Allowing Spencer to speak at UF is giving a platform to incite racism, hate and violence.