When white nationalist Richard Spencer speaks at the University of Florida campus later this month, it will cost the university and local law enforcement agencies over a half a million dollars to provide security, according to a statement released today by UF. The university also launched a new website to discuss the issues related to hosting the controversial speaker.
UF had originally denied a request by Spencer’s organization, the National Policy Institute (NPI), to come to campus in September, stating at the time that the “likelihood of violence and potential injury” was too high so soon after the events in Charlottesville. another white nationalist rally where Spencer had spoken. That event had erupted into violent clashes between protesting groups, and a young woman named Heather Heyer was killed and at least 19 other injured when a man drove his car into a group of counterprotesters. UF had also received evidence of specific threats targeting UF and Gainesville related to the original planned date for NPI’s event.
Janine Sikes, UF’s Assistant VP of Public Affairs, posted a statement online that emphasized UF’s condemnation of Spencer and his organization:
No one at the University of Florida invited Richard Spencer. No one at UF is sponsoring this event. The racist ideas espoused by this organization and this individual conflict with the values of this institution.
However, due to UF’s commitment to free speech and the requirements of the First Amendment, NPI’s request to rent space was approved. In a separate website located at freespeech.ufl.edu, UF went into more detail regarding the NPI event.
On this website, UF provided additional clarification regarding why NPI’s original request was denied, and why the request for an event in October was approved:
As a state entity, UF must allow the free expression of speech. We cannot prohibit groups or individuals from speaking in our public forums except for limited exceptions, which include safety and security.
Our decision to disallow the September event was based on specific threats and a date that fell soon after the Charlottesville event. Allowing Spencer to speak in October provided additional time to make significant security arrangements.
UF also says that NPI will be charged “the allowable costs of $10,564 to rent the facility and for security within the venue.”
However, this amount does not even come close to covering the expenses that will be incurred.
All together, the UF Police Department, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies providing first responders will be forced to spend more than $500,000 “to enhance security on campus and in the city of Gainesville for this event,” according to the website.
Additional information on the website states that classes will not be cancelled, although professors are encouraged to “be understanding with students on a case-by-case basis.”
Presumably hoping to avoid the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, law enforcement has stated that items like torches, masks, and weapons are strictly prohibited, and consequences are promised for those who violate the law or UF’s student conduct rules:
All laws and rules of the university remain in place. All lawbreakers will be subject to arrest. UF students could face criminal prosecution as well as student conduct sanctions up to and including suspension or expulsion. Similarly, faculty and staff who break the law or university rules could face criminal prosecution and other consequences governed by university regulations. All police arrest reports are public records.
Spencer will be speaking at UF on October 19. Additional information and updates will be provided at freespeech.ufl.edu.
Photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.