Helicopters overhead, limited campus access and blocked off roads were all suggestive of the lessons the University of Florida and the city of Gainesville learned from alt-right gatherings and their passionate opposition in cases like the Charlottesville riots.
These preparations and more were put into place in anticipation of white nationalist Richard Spencer speaking on UF’s campus Thursday, October 19.
After a failed attempt to speak on campus in September, Spencer and his alt-right National Policy Institute threatened to take UF to court if he was once again barred from appearing on campus.
The University acquiesced and granted Spencer a new date to speak. The new date seemed to be a victory for Spencer at the time, but the community’s true thoughts became apparent once Spencer took the stage at the Phillips Performing Arts Center.
As Spencer stepped on stage members of the crowd began chanting “Fuck you, Spencer” and “black lives matter,” attempting to drown out his words. What Spencer thought would be a furthering of his radical ideology became a verbal battle between his supporters and what his event organizer Cameron Padgett called, “the communist antifa.”
“We are all allowed to voice our opinions,” an audience member told Spencer during his speech. “We can speak over you and tell you that you are incorrect and tell you that these things that you are saying is harmful to other people.”
Spencer said, “You are wrong in that. What you are all engaged in is what is known as the ‘heckler's veto’ and the Supreme Court has been very clear on this, that public institutions must protect me from people like you who want to shut down my speech.”
He continued, “You know what I’m saying is going to change the world. We are stronger than you and you know it.”
Padgett was frequently passed the microphone so that he could come to Spencer’s defense, as the questions and statements directed to Spencer were more often critical of his radical ideology than not.
“Frankly free speech is an artifact of white culture … it comes from European philosophy” Padgett said. “The issue of harm ... has never been considered a reason to shut down speech. You're making someone angry, you’re hurting someone’s feelings, someone is threatened violence, those are not reasons to shut down free speech.”
Spencer and his on-stage lackeys continued to battle the crowd throughout the entirety of the speech as the crowd booed and chanted against every statement.
The protesting wasn’t limited to the crowd inside of the building. A much larger crowd gathered outside to march up and down the street in front of the Performing Arts Center as police and riot security kept things under control.
The protesters screamed a wealth of slogans such as, “Racists, sexists, anti gay, Nazi bigots go away” and “No nazis, no kkk, no fascist USA.”
Signs ranged from black lives matter symbols to crossed out swastikas to messages of love for all identities. Some signs even called out UF president Kent Fuchs for allowing Spencer the chance to speak on campus.
Students and citizens of Gainesville have been anticipating Spencer’s event for weeks, with messages about campus safety, inclusion for immigrants and minorities and general statements of love were disseminated to students and to the greater community, as well as messages to avoid violence and ignore Spencer’s presence.
The community did not ignore him, however, and made sure that their voices were unified and heard in their opposition of his radical ideology. The crowds outside of Spencer’s event were populated with voices of love and unity, and though some seats in the auditorium were filled with supporters of alt-right ideology, the voices in opposing his hate overshadowed the support.
Spencer may have fought for his opportunity to speak at the University of Florida in Gainesville, but the people of Gainesville made it clear that it will have none of Spencer’s hate.