Florida leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, are urging students and faculty at the University of Florida to not attend Thursday’s scheduled speech on campus by white nationalist Richard Spencer.
“This guy is out there espousing violence and hatred and anger,” said Bondi. “We pray nothing happens. We hope it’s a peaceful speech. We hope it’s a peaceful protest. But, we don’t want anyone to be injured in our state or in our country.”
But while the attorney general, the governor and U.F. President Kent Fuchs are advising people to avoid Spencer’s speech, Florida Democrats say people have “a moral obligation to refute hate and bigotry whenever they present themselves.”
“The Florida Democratic Party reiterates its support for all peaceful protesters who are standing up and speaking out,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel said in a statement released Wednesday morning.
“White supremacy is an evil we cannot ignore,” Bittel stated. “When leaders like our governor fail to challenge the President for embracing white supremacists, it becomes all the more urgent that the rest of us speak out—clearly, unequivocally, and loudly. We must let it be known that we reject hatred in all its forms.”
Gainesville and the university community are hoping for a peaceful event, but they are preparing for the possibility of violence.
A student group calling itself “No Nazis at U.F.” started an online petition expressing their displeasure with the university for allowing Spencer to speak at the school.
“This event is an opportunity for the “alt-right”, neo-nazis, and active Ku Klux Klan in Florida to rally on campus and intimidate students as well as Gainesville residents,” the petition says.
By mid-morning, more than 3,500 people had signed it.
The group’s Facebook page says nearly 3,000 people plan to attend the protest, with another 7,500 saying they will likely attend.
School officials rejected a request made by Spencer and his National Policy Institute for an appearance at U.F. last month due to what happened in Virginia. School leaders agreed to accommodate Spencer after he threatened to sue.
Spencer was one of the speakers at a white nationalist rally in August that turned violent. A car drove into a crowd of counter-protestors killing a young woman and injuring several others. Clashes have occurred on other campuses where Spencer has spoken.
Scott, at the request of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, declared a state of emergency for the county. Darnell described it as a proactive measure designed to increase coordination between state and local law enforcement.