U of Florida Rejects Request for White Supremacist to Speak

University says it is blocking event not because of the ideas involved, but for reasons of safety, post-Charlottesville.

August 16, 2017
 
Richard Spencer

The University of Florida announced this morning that it will not let Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist and "alt-right" organizer, speak on campus in September.

The move comes just days after the university said that the First Amendment might require it to rent space to Spencer's group, the National Policy Institute, regardless of the hateful messages associated with the organization. But Florida is citing safety issues, not Spencer's message, to justify turning down the request to reserve space on campus.

“This decision was made after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: ‘The Next Battlefield Is in Florida,’” said a message from W. Kent Fuchs, president of the university. “I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for. That said, the University of Florida remains unwaveringly dedicated to free speech and the spirit of public discourse. However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others. The likelihood of violence and potential injury -- not the words or ideas -- has caused us to take this action.”

On Monday, Texas A&M University -- which permitted Spencer to speak on campus in December -- made a similar announcement that it would not permit him to return in September. Texas A&M also cited safety issues, not Spencer's message.

Organizers of the planned Spencer event at Texas A&M have vowed to sue over the refusal to permit him to appear.

Spencer attracted attention after the election, as he was videotaped shouting "Hail Trump" at supporters, some of whom responded with Nazi-style salutes.

In November, Spencer announced that one of the targets for his efforts would be college campuses, and that he was planning an appearance at Texas A&M University in December. The university permitted that appearance but organized a series of events as alternatives to attending the Spencer talk. Members of religious and racial and ethnic minority groups spoke out against Spencer, as so did many white Texas A&M alumni and students. Texas A&M is proud of its military traditions, and during World War II many of its students and alumni fought (and many died) in the war against the Nazis. As a result, there was widespread disgust for a speaker linked to white supremacist ideas.

To understand why so many people are upset about Spencer, consider these background reports from the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, both of which note that he has called for the creation of a white state of America. He regularly includes references in his speeches that suggest his admiration for the Nazis. For instance, he says that most journalists are part of the Lügenpresse, a term the Nazis used to mean "lying press."

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