With white nationalist Richard Spencer scheduled to speak at the University of Florida later today, tensions are running high on the Gainesville campus, and questions are being raised about whether UF is being too accommodating to Spencer, beyond the requirements of the First Amendment.
As The Guardian reported, Spencer and his organization, the National Policy Institute (NPI), were granted control over which journalists would be allowed to cover the event, as well as control over ticketing.
“They’ve rented the facility. It’s their event. It’s not our event,” university spokeswoman Janine Sikes told The Guardian yesterday. “It’s their event, so that’s why they can have whomever they want.”
Clay Calvert, the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at UF’s College of Journalism, noted that UF “ultimately made the decision not to allow a free access pool of journalists, and they could have negotiated that.”
“It is a rather ironic situation,” continued Calvert. “Here’s a individual who gets to speak because of the first amendment, but he also gets to exclude members of the press based upon his whim, who are also protected by the first amendment.”
While UF is granting Spencer the right to select who receives media passes, the process was still handled through UF’s Media Relations office, according to the information on UF’s website. (“News media who plan to cover the National Policy Institute event at the University of Florida on Oct. 19 must register for credentials through UF Media Relations.”)
NPI also has control over distributing tickets to attend the event, and will be handing out physical tickets to those who line up outside the Phillips Center beforehand. Chad Chavira, a junior at UF helping organize protests against Spencer’s group, was sharply critical of the decision, saying it would create a “volatile situation” and “huge danger.”
The Capitolist previously reported that Spencer’s event will cost UF and local law enforcement agencies over a half a million dollars for security. With Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) declaring a state of emergency in Gainesville and activating the Florida National Guard, the final cost is expected to be even higher.
[This article has been updated with additional information.]
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.