University of Florida denies white nationalist event request, citing safety concerns

By Sarah Larimer

The University of Florida has denied a request to rent space on its campus for an event that was expected to bring white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to the public flagship school next month.

The decision to deny the National Policy Institute’s request was detailed in a message from university President W. Kent Fuchs, which was posted to Facebook on Wednesday. Spencer is president of the institute, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia.

“Amid serious concerns for safety, we have decided to deny the National Policy Institute’s request to rent event space at the University of Florida,” Fuchs said in the statement. “This decision was made after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: ‘The Next Battlefield is in Florida.’”

The institute had contacted the school to “reserve space for a speaking event”  Sept. 12, according to a previous message from Fuchs. In a statement posted on Saturday, he explained that the proposed event would have featured Spencer. He said that “no student groups or other groups affiliated with the university” had sponsored the proposed speech.

“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,” Fuchs said in his statement Wednesday. “That said, the University of Florida remains unwaveringly dedicated to free speech and the spirit of public discourse. However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others.

“The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action.”

Spencer did not immediately return an email seeking comment Wednesday. The institute also did not immediately return a request for comment.

“I signed an agreement and sent it in to the event coordinator,” Cameron Padgett, the man who was trying to set up the UF event, told the Associated Press. “I don’t know who’s advising them on why they think they can do this.”

Padgett is affiliated with the institute, according to the AP, which wrote that he plans to file “a legal challenge.”

“Should the National Policy Institute challenge this legally, we are prepared to vigorously defend the president’s decision,” Janine Sikes, a UF spokeswoman, told The Post.

Asked if the university had ever denied such a speaking request before, Sikes responded: “We’re not aware, at least in recent history, that we have.”

UF’s decision comes after crowds of white nationalists and white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters last weekend in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia. One person was killed and 19 others wounded Saturday when a car plowed through a crowd of counterprotesters, and two state police officers died in a helicopter crash.

“Truly, what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend, we were looking at this request differently before that, and after, post-Charlottesville, our law enforcement reached out,” Sikes said. “We just had some bigger concerns, in terms of safety and security of our students, faculty, staff, and any visitors.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said Wednesday that he had spoken with Fuchs, as well as Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell. Scott said he told officials that he would “help provide any security they need.”

“No one should be doing anything that creates violence,” he said. “I’ve talked to them a few times, and I’ve also talked to the [Gainesville] police chief, Tony Jones, there, and said the same thing. My focus there is to make sure that whatever decision the University of Florida makes, we make sure there’s public safety.”

On Monday, Texas A&M University announced that a “White Lives Matter” event scheduled to be held on its campus Sept. 11 had been canceled. Texas A&M also cited safety concerns when announcing its decision.

Texas A&M said in a statement that it canceled the event after “consultation with law enforcement and considerable study.” The planned outdoor event, scheduled by Preston Wiginton, was expected to be held at Rudder Plaza,  in the middle of campus in College Station. Wiginton is a former Texas A&M student. He wasn’t invited by any campus groups, and no campus groups had agreed to sponsor him, the university said.

A media notification about Wiginton’s event was headlined: “Today Charlottesville Tomorrow Texas A&M,” which A&M noted in its statement about its cancellation.

“Linking the tragedy of Charlottesville with the Texas A&M event creates a major security risk on our campus,” that statement said. “Additionally, the day-long event would provide disruption to our class schedules and to student, faculty and staff movement (both bus system and pedestrian).”

Wiginton has denied that the words were a reference to the violence that unfolded in Charlottesville.

This post has been updated.

Edited for

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