Richard Spencer's message drowned out by boos at UF

Authorities say 5 arrested on campus Thursday

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Supporters of white nationalist Richard Spencer’s controversial message about race were greatly outnumbered by shouting protesters Thursday as he attempted to give a speech at the University of Florida, making it clear he was unwelcome.

Despite petitions, protests and backlash, Spencer, the leader of the National Policy Institute, rented the Phillips Center for Performing Arts on campus for two hours, honoring his First Amendment rights, university officials said.

Spencer and his associates spoke for more than two hours to a partially filled auditorium, mostly of jeering protestors who never let up from start to finish. The second two rows of seats were roped off for his supporters.

Recap of events at University of Florida Campus

5:30 p.m. Three supporters of Spencer were arrested after a shot was fired Thursday at a group of people in Gainesville near SW 34th Street and Archer Road, police said. No one was injured.

William Henry Fears, 30; Golton Gene Fears, 28; and Tyler Tenbrink, 29; were arrested on charges of attempted homicide. They were taken to the Alachua County Jail.

The arrests bring the total up to five for the overall campus event on Oct. 19.

5 p.m. Deputies with the Alachua Sheriff’s Office said a second arrest was made Thursday evening on campus. David Notte, 34, is charged with resisting an officer without violence.

4:18 p.m. After battling a crowd of booing protesters for more than two hours Spencer walked off the Phillips Center stage and left the UF campus, university officials said.

“The world is going to look at this event, and the world is going to have a very different impression of the University of Florida because you acted this way,” Spencer said to the audience booing him.

3:20 p.m. Unable to give his speech because of the jeering crowd, Spencer turned to a question and answer segment with the audience.

"Why do you think you're welcome here?" an audience member asked Spencer as the first question.

"What are you still doing here?" another asked.

2:35 p.m. As the event started protesters Spencer walked on stage to boos, which kept inside him from speaking. A yelling match between Spencer's supporters and audience members broke out, as the alt-right leader tried to yell above chanters saying,"Go home Nazis."

"We are stronger than you and you know it," Spencer yelled back at the crowd.

2:20 p.m. People have started to file in at the Philips Center for Performing Arts for Spencer's speech. The venue seats about 800 people. Approximately 700 tickets will be given out, event planners said.

12:30 p.m. Spencer held a news conference at 12:30 p.m. that got off to a confrontational start. Spencer accused NBC reporter Kerry Sanders of reporting that he would only allow supporters inside the main event and refused to move on to other questions.

Asked if he considered himself a racist, Spencer said he doesn’t hate people, but that “race is the foundation of identity.”

“I am not a white supremacist,” he added, saying that tickets for his speech weren't "just for white people," but anyone who wants to listen to him.

Spencer also discussed the violent white-supremacist event in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which a woman died.

He blamed the violence on anti-fascists protesters and said he wanted a peaceful event.

Security checks to enter the performing arts center will begin at 1:15 p.m. and doors open at 1:30 p.m. Approximately 700 tickets will be given out.

11 a.m.  Deputies said they arrested a man carrying a holstered gun without incident. The man told reporters that he was a security guard and licensed to carry, but police said it was still a felony.

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office later confirmed that the man was armed security hired by a member of the media, but firearms on campus are illegal.

Gainesville police posted a list of prohibited items on campus ahead of the event, which included weapons of any kind.

UF to spend $500,000 on security costs

Hundreds of Florida Highway Patrol troopers, police and deputies were on campus ahead of the event. UF police blocked off the roads near the performing arts center.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, UF president W. Kent Fuchs said Spencer is "hijacking" public universities — which are compelled by the First Amendment to provide a speaking forum — and forcing taxpayers to pay the resulting security costs.

Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times via AP

Troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol Quick Response Force line in front of the Phillips Center on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville ahead of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.

Fuchs said the university has been preparing for the controversial event at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for more than a month, working with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol and federal officials to keep students and the community safe.

Fuchs estimated the cost of security would run the university more than $500,000, which Spencer is required to pay $10,000 of for event costs.

Why allow the event to happen?

UF officials originally denied Spencer’s request Sept. 12 due to the potential violence and risk on campus and in the community following the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, but Spencer was planning to sue the university for violating his right to free speech.

Spencer was hours away from filing a lawsuit when UF officials said he could speak, Spencer's Gainesville First Amendment attorney Gary Edinger said.

Fuchs posted a video Monday, saying that by law, the university could not prevent Spencer from speaking on campus.

The 39-year-old Spencer advocates for a white "ethno-state" and has said previously that all races are not equal. During his 40-45 minute talk at UF, he plans to discuss "white identity," reported the Tampa Bay Times.

Spencer’s National Policy Institute, described as a "white supremacists think-tank," is handling ticket distribution to the event, not the Phillips Center box office, as originally planned. An NPI Facebook post instructed people to “simply appear at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on the day of the event.”

Protestors, supporters arrive ahead of event

Students have been using the hashtag #NoNazisAtUF to voice their opposition to the event. More than 7,600 people said they were interested in attending a protest on Facebook, under the same name, during Spencer’s speech.

On Thursday, hundreds marched near the Phillips Center carrying signs with anti-fascist messages and chanted, "Not our town, not our state. We don't want your Nazi hate."

"I can't believe this guy showed up to mansplain white supremacy," protestor Sahara Peters said, carrying a sign that said the same.

"Diversity is important, exclusivity is important, connections are important and we wouldn't have made it so far without all those things and we aren't here to go back," Peters said.

Jenna Cisernos/WKMG

A group of protestors carry a banned that reads," No Nazis at UF," ahead of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech on OCt. 19, 2017.

Orlando activist Mitch Emerson organized a group from Central Florida to protest the event.

"Right now, we are outnumbering them," Emerson said of Spencer's supporters.

"I'm here to fight against white supremacy," Alberto Barcenas, a student from Miami, said. "I'm here to show support to everyone who feels uncomfortable who feels they are being harassed, feels like they don't belong in this country."

Signs posted around campus read “love, not hate” and “one love, one heart.”

News 6 spokes to several men who drove from Texas to be at Spencer's speech.

William Fears, of Houston, who also attended the Charlottesville march, slammed Scott for declaring a state of emergency.

“When have you ever heard of a national state of emergency, or a state of emergency declared, because someone was going to talk about pro-white speech or even just whites existing?” Fears said.

Fears said if child predators and are allowed to have their “twisted sexual conventions,” but “if a man says whites have right to exist they have to declare a state of emergency.”

Fears was one of three men from Texas who were arrested later on Thursday for fire a gun at protesters, according to Gainesville police.

Sam, who declined to provide his last name, also drove from Houston for the event. He said he hoped Spencer talks about "the destruction of monuments and the havoc it's actually causing."

See a recap of News 6 team coverage below:


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