Gainesville, Fla. — Students and other audience members heavily booed white nationalist Richard Spencer on Thursday as he gave a speech at the University of Florida, where the atmosphere was tense but mostly peaceful as police in riot gear kept watch.
Counter demonstrators greatly outnumbered Spencer’s supporters, their chants drowning Spencer out during his speech.
Outside, hundreds more people protested with signs and anti-Nazi chants alongside hundreds of police officers there to prevent violence.
Anti-Spencer protesters shouted, “Not in our town! Not in our state! We don’t want your Nazi hate!” and “Let’s go Gators” during his speech, frustrating the head of the National Policy Institute.
Three or four skirmishes occurred during the long afternoon after single Spencer supporters confronted the counter demonstrators, trying to speak and rile the crowds up. One man, wearing a white shirt with swastikas drawn on, was punched and chased out of the area. At least three others were quickly surrounded by crowds that shouted them down, chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and pushed them until they left the area or were chased behind police lines.
“Go home, Spencer!” protesters intoned after Spencer began speaking.
“You are trying to stifle our free speech,” Spencer said as the crowd continuously booed and chanted through his speech, in which he recited his ideas about the “ideal” of a white nation.
Police and media helicopters circled over the area Thursday as hundreds of protesters marched in opposition to Spencer’s appearance. Demonstrators were met by a blockade of police wearing riot gear.
The Alachua County Sheriff said at least one person was arrested.
The school estimated it would spend $600,000 on security to ensure no repeat of violent clashes connected to a white nationalist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one dead in August.
School officials cited the Charlottesville violence in rejecting an initial request from Spencer to speak at the university. They later relented on free speech grounds.
Florida’s governor had declared a state of emergency for the event.
Spencer gained national prominence in recent years for his support of President Trump and for his views calling for a separate nation for white people. The apparent resurgence in white nationalism in the United States has sparked anti-supremacists to mobilize with their own efforts, including nonviolent demonstrations and pressure campaigns on companies providing services to white nationalists and sometimes violent attacks intended to drive them out of public spaces.
Spencer has turned his sights to public universities, where 1st Amendment protections of free speech limit officials’ ability to deny Spencer a platform.
About 700 free tickets were available for the event and were supposed to be distributed outside the venue on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Spencer’s website.
Los Angeles Times contributed.
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