Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in preparation for a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer planned for Thursday at the University of Florida.
The order allows state, county, and local agencies to coordinate their resources more quickly and freely before and during the rally in Gainesville and activates the Florida National Guard.
In his executive order, Scott cited protests of planned speeches by Spencer, including ones in Alabama, Texas, and Virginia. Spencer participated in a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in a violent clash with counterprotesters and the death of one woman. “I find that a threat of emergency is imminent,” Scott wrote in the executive order. Both protests and counterprotests are expected.
“[We] have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority,” Scott said in a press release. “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.”
Spencer told the Orlando Sentinel the declaration was “flattering” but “most likely overkill.” He did tell the Sentinel he was worried the emergency declaration could be used to shut down his speech, as a state of emergency was also declared in Virginia before Spencer could speak. “That was basically a means for suppressing the rally,” he said.
Spencer, a proud white nationalist and the president of the National Policy Institute, has long been a loud proponent of a white ethno-state. He argues diversity is an existential threat to the United States, and he has been a prominent leader and spokesperson for white nationalists during the increasingly bold demonstrations from the alt-right.
The University of Florida initially attempted to block Spencer and the National Policy Institute from speaking on campus by citing the violence in Charlottesville when he tried to speak in September. But Spencer and his group threatened to sue over First Amendment violations, and the school backed down when he renewed his request. The Thursday event will cost the university $500,000 in security.
After Spencer succeeded in rescheduling his event, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs emailed students urging them to stay away from the speech, as Spencer only wanted “to provoke a reaction,” and to speak out against his message of “hate and racism.”