Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency yesterday (October 16) ahead of a planned speech by White nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
The Republican governor signed Executive Order 17-264 at the request of Alachua Country Sheriff Sadie Darnell, who anticipates the need for additional law enforcement when Spencer speaks on the Gainesville campus of the University of Florida on Thursday (October 19).
“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 number one priority,” Scott said in a statement about the order. “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 move comes two months after Spencer and other White nationalists led hundreds of their followers in a violent rally and march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly and resulted in the arrests of both protesters and counterprotesters. There are currently two pending lawsuits against Spencer and his ilk for their actions on August 12.
The Washington Post reports that University of Florida officials canceled Spencer’s event following the Charlottesville melee, but First Amendment concerns pushed them to put him back on the schedule. The school is expected to spend $500,000 on security. The emergency order will make it easier for local law enforcement to coordinate with state agencies and opens the door for Scott to activate the Florida National Guard.
The university issued a statement about safety during the event, saying that all attendees to the ticketed indoor speech will have to go through metal detectors before entry and detailing the list of closed roads and parking lots. It also includes a note from campus police chief Linda J. Stump-Kurnick about how students and faculty should proceed on Thursday.
“We understand that this event and possible protest provoke fear. Faculty are asked to be understanding with students on a case-by-case basis,” Stump-Kurnick says. “We encourage you to speak up with your voices in support of our proudly diverse community and the values of this institution. We also encourage you to avoid the event. Don’t let the University of Florida be defined by Richard Spencer.”
The #NoNazisAtUF campaign pushed to get Spencer barred from campus, gathering the support of a reported 500 staffers who oppose the speech. The group is holding a faculty-led teach-in tonight (October 17) ahead of the event, and is working with labor union Gainesville International Workers of the World to direct donors to a legal defense fund to support protesters who are arrested.