University Of Florida Officials Brace For White Nationalist's Speech The campus in Gainesville is on high alert. It's intended to prevent an outbreak of violence around a speech, scheduled for later Thursday by White Nationalist Richard Spencer.

University Of Florida Officials Brace For White Nationalist's Speech

University Of Florida Officials Brace For White Nationalist's Speech

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The campus in Gainesville is on high alert. It's intended to prevent an outbreak of violence around a speech, scheduled for later Thursday by White Nationalist Richard Spencer.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The University of Florida is preparing for a controversial visitor. White nationalist Richard Spencer is due to speak on campus later today, and the school isn't taking any chances. They have put up barricades to protect the performing arts center where he'll speak, and hundreds of law enforcement officers are on hand to prevent any potential outbreak of violence. Now, we should remember Spencer led the rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August when fighting broke out and a woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd. NPR's Greg Allen is in Gainesville, Fla., and joins us.

Hi there, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So why is the University of Florida going forward with this?

ALLEN: Well, I think in the end they felt they had little choice. This is a public university. The president says that it's important to stay open to outside people in the community, allow them use the facilities. So they do allow groups to rent - from the outside - rent facilities. Spencer's group is paying a little over $10,000 to rent the hall here. They - the university denied an earlier request but then, after some negotiation, felt that they should go ahead and let it go forward if they took the right steps to, you know, make sure that security's OK today.

GREENE: So just to make a distinction - I mean, we've had some cases where campus groups at some universities would invite someone. It sounds like this was not a group inviting Spencer. This was Spencer and his organization paying money to rent space.

ALLEN: That's right. Richard Spencer has a pattern of going to universities, especially through the South and the Southeast, and renting halls. He's done it at Auburn. Of course, we remember at University of Virginia, the rally there. That's one way he gets attention, by provoking universities, trying to get them to deny his free speech, his rights to free speech under the First Amendment. And so it's a forum for him, and that's part of what he does here.

GREENE: How's the school trying to make sure that things don't escalate?

ALLEN: Well, the governor of Florida declared a state of emergency to bring in law enforcement officers from around the state, and they'll be closely monitoring the counterprotests expected outside the hall today. It's not clear how many of Spencer's supporters will be there, but the university president, Kent Fuchs, is asking members of the university not to attend. But he says he thinks there are - he doesn't think there are many here that are receptive to his message. Here's what he had to say.

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KENT FUCHS: I'm not concerned at all about him recruiting. But I am concerned that we are going to inadvertently allow his message to be spread nationally and that we become the tool of that and, secondly, that we have to bear the costs.

ALLEN: And the university has estimated security costs today will be over a half-million dollars.

GREENE: What's it feel like there? I mean, does it already feel like this morning that something's happening today?

ALLEN: Well, yeah. On the western part of the campus, it's like an armed camp with all the barricades and police. So there's a banner that's - listing all the prohibited items today for protesters. That's more than a mile from the main campus where classes are going ahead today. Many students and faculty are unhappy the university is allowing this speech to go forward. They think they should have stopped it. And there is concern on campus about security. Here is sophomore Sierra Ray.

SIERRA RAY: We saw the figures, over half a million dollars being spent on security. We see the police officers on campus already. But especially, you know, my peers of different minorities, sexual orientation, just color of the skin - they're especially concerned. They're not sure if just walking down the street makes them immediately a target on this day because we know tensions will be high.

ALLEN: You know, despite the state of emergency, president of the university Kent Fuchs isn't - didn't cancel class today, although many people thought he should have. And I think professors, a lot of them, are not holding classes or making attendance optional.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Greg Allen speaking to us from Gainesville, Fla. Greg, thanks.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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