A man wearing a shirt with swastikas on it is punched by an unidentified member of the crowd near the site of a planned speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE (FOX 13) - White supremacist Richard Spencer gave a combative speech at the University of Florida on Thursday, but costly security measures taken by the school and the community seemed to have the desired effect – almost none of the violence that shook the nation at a deadly rally in Virginia two months ago.
Spencer advocates for a whites-only America and his organization, the National Policy Institute, has been labeled a hate group. UF initially tried to deny his request to speak on campus, but Spencer took the school to court.
As a state entity, the university must allow the free expression of speech and cannot prohibit groups or individuals from speaking in public forums.
University president Kent Fuchs and law enforcement agencies said they’d taken every step possible to make sure this event was safe. There were checkpoints all over campus and several hundred law enforcement officers were brought in from around the state. Governor Rick Scott even declared a local state of emergency.
Security for the event cost taxpayers at least $500,000. The school could not order Spencer to pay that because courts have found that there can't be an exorbitant cost for some speakers to practice their First Amendment rights.
Before the speech began, hundreds of protestors marched outside of Phillips Hall, rejecting the ideas that Spencer typically espouses and calling on him to leave campus immediately. At times, they clashed with Spencer’s supporters, but there was no widespread violence.
FOX 13’s Evan Axelbank spotted saw several arrests, but most were for what he characterized as “minor dustups” and there appeared to be no serious injuries. One of the arrests was because a private security guard was found to be carrying a weapon; another was because a punch was thrown.
During his speech, Spencer was interrupted repeatedly by protestors inside the hall. He verbally sparred with several of them, alternating between goading them and scolding them.