GAINESVILLE, Fla. - White nationalist Richard Spencer has the First Amendment right to speak at the University of Florida Thursday, but university officials say that right is costing UF more than $500,000 in security to keep the campus safe. Spencer is required to pay for $10,000 in security and event costs.
A full month ahead of Spencer's speech, campus police started working with local, state and federal officials to keep students safe and make sure the violence that happened during a white nationalist event in Charlottesville, Virginia, isn't repeated in Gainesville.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Alachua County Monday through an executive order after a request from Sheriff Sadie Darnell for additional resources.
UF officials originally denied Spencer’s request Sept. 12 due to the potential violence and risk on campus and the community, following the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, but UF President W. Kent Fuchs later said the university would allow the event to happen.
Fuchs posted a video Monday, saying that by law the university could not prevent Spencer from speaking on campus.
"The values of our university are not shared by Mr. Spencer," Fuchs said.
Spencer was hours away from filling a First Amendment lawsuit when UF officials said he could speak there, Spencer's Gainesville attorney, Gary Edinger, said.
"It's hateful speech, it's disgusting speech, but it's constitutionally protected," Edinger said.
Edinger, who is a First Amendment lawyer, said he has received backlash for accepting Spencer's case. His office was picketed last week.
Fuchs also said that UF is not able to bill Spencer or his group, the National Policy Institute, for the cost of security.
"I think it speaks a lot about how they feel about our safety, but I also feel that's completely unnecessary to have to spend my tuition money just because some racist wants to come speak at my school," Lana Winjum, a UF freshman, told News 6 on Monday.
UF is cancelling some on campus events and restricting access to certain buildings only to those with student identification ahead of the event.
Concerned students, facility and parents can read the university's plans for safety online here.
On Tuesday, an orange and blue banner that read "Love not hate," was draped over a fraternity house on campus.
Dozens of Florida Highway Patrol troopers stood across the street from the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Many students said they were worried ahead of the white nationalist event and would stay away. Thousands of counter protests are also planned for Thursday.
"I have a class in Turlington when he's speaking and I know that's where rioters will go," Winjum said. "I'm worried about walking there during that time."
“Obviously, it's a first amendment right but when that's going to put the student body in danger and possibly be harmful to us, with protests and anger, I just don't think it's a good idea,” UF Freshman Tyler Thompson, of DeBary, said.
Spencer's event starts at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Phillips Center.
Fuchs and other Florida officials, including Sen. Marco Rubio, are urging students to avoid the event completely.
"I ask that you not let Mr. Spencer's message on hate and racism go unchallenged," Fuchs said. "Make it clear that messaged of hate on campus are contrary to our values."
For more information on the event, including answers to commonly asked questions, click here.
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