The university cited “serious concerns for safety” after the violence and death that happened in last weekend’s rally for its decision, but states it is steadfastly dedicated to “free speech”.
“This decision was made after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: ‘The Next Battlefield is in Florida,'” university president W. Kent Fuchs said in a statement Wednesday.
“The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action.”
Some users on the website 4chan made statements, such as “Florida is a great place for white nationalists” and incite counter-protesters to clash because “you can basically open carry and pop someone for saying “I’m going to kill you.””
Spencer’s National Policy Institute executive director Evan McLaren said the event was for Spencer debate and share ideas, not violence.
The University of Florida has denied Richard Spencer's request to rent space on the campus following what happened in Charlottesville pic.twitter.com/rBFLGpNh8a
— Mark Berman (@markberman) August 16, 2017
“There’s no reason why he should not be permitted to speak,” he said. “They think because of the events in Charlottesville, they have better standing to prevent Mr Spencer from speaking, but that is not the case. The first amendment law in these cases is simple.”
The university’s decision comes in the wake of Texas A&M announcement on Monday that it will not let a “White Lives Matter” rally, advertised as the next Charlottesville by its organiser, to take place on its campus.
One counter-protester died while 19 others were injured when a Nazi sympathiser smashed his car into the crowd at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.
The school had previously stated it would be obligated to allow Spencer’s Sept 12 speaking engagement, despite having no invitation or sponsorship by the university or its students to do so.
“While this speaker’s views do not align with our values as an institution, we must follow the law, upholding the First Amendment not to discriminate based on content and provide access to a public space,” Fuchs wrote, as quoted by Miami Herald on Monday.
According to NPR, Spencer is a prominent “alt-right” – a term which he uses to describe white nationalists – figure proudly pushing for an all-white “ethnostate”.
Spencer’s National Policy Institute states on its website it’s “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”