Florida Governor Rick Scott issued a state of emergency on Oct. 16, ahead of a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida, citing violence at his previous speaking engagements.
Scott’s executive order noted that prior speeches by Spencer in Virginia, Alabama, California, and Texas, “have sparked protests and counter-protests resulting in episodes of violence, civil unrest, and multiple arrests.”
The order came at the request of Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Scott said, and will open up state and other law-enforcement resources to assist the sheriff’s office in the event of violence on campus or in the city. It will also allow the governor to access emergency funding.
“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,” said Scott in a statement. “I have been in constant contact with Sheriff Darnell who has requested this Executive Order to ensure that county and local law enforcement have every needed resource. 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.”
Spencer is set to speak at the Gainesville campus on Thursday, Oct. 19.
He told the Associated Press that the emergency declaration was “flattering” but “most likely overkill.”
“I’m not a hurricane or an invading army, at least not literally,” he said via telephone on Monday, Oct. 16.
The university initially denied Spencer’s request to rent a space on campus, but eventually acquiesced when Spencer’s attorney threatened the school with a lawsuit.
“As a public educational institution, UF may not ban hate speech,” the school said. “We must balance our aspirations and values against our legal obligations to protect the First Amendment rights of all—even those with views and values contrary to UF’s fundamental principles.”
It warned students that any protesters who become violent will be arrested and prosecuted, and that weapons, masks, backpacks, and a long list of other things will be banned during the event.
Spencer’s speech has no sponsorship from either the school nor any group on campus, the university said, and the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank that Spencer is the president of, is paying $10,500 to rent the facility and for security within it.
The state-run school and “other agencies” have planned to spend up to $500,000 on security on campus and in the city, the school said in a Q&A about the event.
“This includes costs from the University of Florida Police Department, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies providing first responders.”
Janine Sikes, the university’s assistant vice president of public affairs, said in a statement that there has been no tangible threat to the school’s security and that all actions law enforcement and the school are taking are pre-emptive.
She also encouraged everyone to avoid the event.
“Don’t let the University of Florida be defined by Richard Spencer,” she said to students in a statement.