Florida declares state of emergency ahead of Richard Spencer speech
A state of emergency has been declared in Florida ahead of a controversial college event featuring Richard Spencer — the infamous white nationalist who helped organize the deadly rallies in Charlottesville.
Gov. Rick Scott made the move on Monday, issuing an executive order as officials prepared to deal with the fallout from Spencer’s speaking engagement.
“I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent and hereby declare a state of emergency in Alachua County,” Scott wrote in the order.
Spencer, 39, is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida on Thursday. He will also be addressing issues during a question-and-answer session, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Floridians are reportedly furious about the event, with protests already taking place in Gainesville.
It comes less than three months after Spencer helped organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — which later turned deadly when a man drove his car into a crowd of people.
Local authorities had asked Scott to declare the state of emergency in advance of Spencer’s UF event, the Sentinel reports.
His executive order ultimately means that the Division of Emergency Management — the state agency typically in charge of hurricane relief efforts — will now help police keep the peace during it, while also placing the Florida National Guard on standby.
Anti-fascist protesters, known as Antifa, plan to demonstrate on Thursday in response to Spencer’s seminar. Social media users, on both sides, have threatened to get violent at the event.
Police on Monday said they plan to use the state of emergency as a way to avoid a tragedy like Charlottesville.
“What was needed was the ability to reach out to some specialty teams,” Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell told the Sentinel. “We’ve never been able to predict the unknown and we just don’t know what to expect.”
Spencer, meanwhile, says the executive order was overkill.
“If someone is coming to speak I feel like declaring the state of emergency is out of bounds,” he told the Naples Daily News. “I feel like this may be an excuse to cancel the event but I simply don’t know…There’s no good reason why the speech shouldn’t take place.”
Scott argues that while freedom of speech is a right, the government must do what’s needed to protect ts citizens.
“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,” he said in a statement. “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 800-seat Phillips Center at UF is expected to be packed on Thursday night when Spencer gives his speech. More people will likely gather outside, as well.
University officials said security for the event will cost them an estimated $500,000. An additional 500 law enforcement officers are scheduled to be on hand.
UF had initially rejected a request from Spencer and his National Policy Institute think tank to speak on campus in September, following the events in Charlottesville, but President Ken Fuchs was forced to change his mind after being threatened with a lawsuit.
He has since been asking students and staff to stay away from Thursday’s speaking engagement.
“The values of our university are not shared by Mr. Spencer, the National Policy Institute or his followers,” Fuchs said in a video posted to the university president’s Facebook page. “Our campuses are places where people of all races, origins and religions are welcomed and are treated with love.”