Police and protesters swarmed the University of Florida on Thursday as the campus braced for a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer, whose planned appearance led Florida’s governor to declare a state of emergency for the area.
Police and media helicopters circled over the area as hundreds of protesters marched in opposition to Spencer’s appearance. The protesters were met by a blockade of police wearing protective riot gear.
Spencer has turned his sights to public universities, where 1st Amendment protections of free speech limit officials’ ability to deny Spencer a platform. Officials at the Florida college have confirmed they’ve spent roughly $500,000 on security for the event, and police from around Florida have gathered in Gainesville to assist local police.
About 700 tickets were available for the event and would be distributed outside the venue on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to Spencer’s website, AltRight.com. Weapons have been banned from the event, along with a wide range of other items, including water bottles, masks, shields and hats.
“Everyone is welcome at #SpenceratUF,” Spencer tweeted before the event Thursday. “This is going to be an important dialogue for the entire community.”
University officials announced that most classes would meet as normal Thursday. The school asked students to boycott Spencer, whose views university President W. Kent Fuchs has described as “repugnant.”
A group calling itself “No Nazis at UF” planned to stage a protest outside the event. About 3,000 people indicated on Facebook that they planned to participate. Students also staged a sit-in at a student Senate meeting earlier in the week.