GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A man wearing a swastika armband who has been hanging around the University of Florida campus was surrounded Thursday by dozens of protesters, who chanted “No more Nazis, ever again.”
The protest was captured about 12:30 p.m. on Facebook Live by The Fine Print, an independent publication run by volunteers in Gainesville. (Warning, video contains foul language.)
Some of the protesters held signs with a no symbol across a swastika, and several stood very close to the man, who Gainesville police later identified as Michael Dewitz, without touching him.
Police said that just after 2 p.m. Thursday, the Gainesville Police Department was called to the area of NW 13th Street and 8th Avenue because Dewitz was being “jumped.”
Police said two white men in a red pickup truck reportedly jumped out of the truck, struck Dewitz, who is also white, and stole his jacket and swastika armband. Dewitz suffered minor injuries.
The two men drove off north on NW 13th Street, and officers were searching for the men and the truck, police said.
Earlier this week, Gainesville police posted a note to their Facebook page explaining that they were aware
Dewitz was hanging around the campus wearing the swastika, but that his actions were not a crime.
“Every Gainesville Police Officer swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. While the swastika is extremely offensive to a great majority of the population, this individual is exercising his rights protected under the First Amendment, and we are bound by our oath to protect the rights of all persons, including those that are offensive,” GPD wrote. “We understand that his behavior is extremely offensive, but merely wearing this symbol is not a crime.”
GPD said officers had heard rumors that Dewitz had been physically attacking people but that no verified victims or witnesses had come forward. They asked anyone who might have been attacked or witnessed such an attack to call GPD at 352-955-1818 so that they can begin an investigation.