Scott declares state of emergency ahead of white nationalist event at UF

Richard Spencer to speak at UF Thursday

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order Monday declaring a state of emergency in Alachua County and directing additional law enforcement resources to help Thursday when white nationalist Richard Spencer speaks at the University of Florida.

UF officials originally denied Spencer’s request Sept. 12 due to the potential violence and risk on campus and the community, following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. UF President W. Kent Fuschs later said the university would allow Spencer’s event to happen.

Scott said he signed the order after a request for additional resources the day of the event from Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell.

UF and other agencies will pay more than $500,000 for additional security measures.

"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 No. 1 priority," Scott said. "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.”

The university has repeatedly stated that it will not be affiliated with the event in any way, but as a public institution, UF is legally obligated to allow the expression of many viewpoints by external groups, such as Spencer's National Policy Institute.

On Monday after Scott signed the executive order, UF officials said that they appreciated the governor's support, but that there was no immediate heightened threat to public safety.

"(The declaration) enables various law enforcement agencies to work together more efficiently," the statement read. "For example, agencies from multiple jurisdictions can be mobilized, if necessary, without bureaucratic delays."

[Watch: UF president addresses concerns ahead of Spencer's event]

Richard Spencer 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.

However, Spencer expressed concern that the emergency declaration could be used as a pretext for blocking his speech. He noted that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had declared a state of emergency on the day of the Charlottesville rally before Spencer and others could speak.

"That was basically a means for suppressing the rally," Spencer claimed.

The event is scheduled from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Philips Center of Performing Arts.

The University of Florida plans to be open for classes and regular operations Thursday, but faculty members have been informed to be understanding for students who are targets of hate because of race, religion, culture and other beliefs.

People took to social media to plan protests and opposition against Spencer.

A Gainesville brewery, Alligator Brewing, offered a free drink for anyone who brought in tickets for the event instead of attending.

“We, unfortunately, can’t stop him from bringing his hate to Gainesville, but we can empty the room so his disgusting message goes unheard,” a message posted on the brewery’s Facebook page said.

Free tickets to the event were supposed to be available Saturday at the Phillips Center box office, but event planners now say the National Policy Institute and volunteers will distribute tickets the day of the event.  

For more information on the event, including answers to commonly asked questions, click here.

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