Setting one potential example for how other states can treat the threat of white supremacy, Florida is treating the upcoming University of Florida visit by Richard Spencer as a state of emergency.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the declaration at the behest of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell on Monday, writing, “I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent and hereby declare a state of emergency in Alachua County.”
“We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence, and public safety is always our number one priority,” he said. “This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”
The order enables state agencies to respond to the event like a natural disaster, allowing them to temporarily circumvent regulations to adequately fund the emergency response. The fear, of course, is that Spencer’s hate speech will incite violence like that in Charlottesville, when Spencer and his neo-Nazi pals marched down the streets of UVA’s campus in August.
The Phillips Center, where Spencer is speaking, has a capacity of 800. The Florida National Guard will be on standby and at least 500 police officers will be working around the event.
University of Florida has rejected Spencer’s attempt to speak on the campus before, but Spencer has since threatened to sue over free speech rights. “The values of our university are not shared by Mr. Spencer, the National Policy Institute, or his followers,” said University of Florida president Ken Fuchs in a Facebook video, explaining why the university was now permitting the event. “If you are like me, I expect you are surprised that UF is required by law to allow Mr. Spencer to speak on our campus, and that we are not allowed to bill him for the full cost of keeping our campus safe.” Officials estimate the school will pay $500,000 in security fees.
Fuchs also asked students to not give Spencer and his followers “the spotlight they are seeking” by avoiding the Phillips Center on October 19. He added, however, that students “not let Mr. Spencer’s message of hate and racism race go unchallenged.”