University of Florida, police brace for speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer

Hundreds of police officers wearing bulletproof vests were deployed at the University of Florida on Thursday to guard against unrest over a speech by a white nationalist that was expected to draw thousands in protest.

Richard Spencer’s event at the university in Gainesville prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency to prepare for possible violence. It comes about two months after rallies by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., led to a deadly clash with counter-protesters.

The violence on Aug. 12 sparked a national debate on race, and U.S. President Donald Trump came under fire for blaming both sides for the melee.

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Police survey the area from atop a building on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville on Thursday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Spencer, who heads the National Policy Institute, is scheduled to speak from 2:30 p.m. ET at a performing arts centre. . The university said it did not invite him to speak, but was obligated by law to allow the event. It said it will spend more than $ 500,000 US on security.

The National Policy Institute is paying more than $ 10,000 to rent the facility and for security within the venue, according to the university.

‘Very tense and upsetting’

There was eerie quiet around the centre early Thursday, with classroom buildings surrounded by barricades and few students in the area.

Signs saying “love not hate” and “#TogetherUF” were hung around campus. A local brewery offered free beer in exchange for tickets to the event in an effort to leave seats empty.

“It’s very tense and upsetting,” Wes Li, a 20-year-old philosophy student, said of the speech. “A lot of people aren’t going to be around campus because they’re worried.”

Florida university takes drastic precautions before alt-right speech0:38

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups in the United States, said Spencer is “a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America.”

An outspoken supporter of Trump during the 2016 campaign, Spencer rose from relative obscurity after widely circulated videos showed some Trump supporters giving Nazi-style salutes to Spencer during a gathering in Washington to celebrate the Republican candidate’s win. Trump condemned the meeting.

U of F president urges students not to attend 

The Orlando Sentinel quoted Spencer as saying the emergency declaration issued this week was “flattering” but “most likely overkill.”

About 3,000 people have signed up on a Facebook page to say they will be attending a protest rally called “No Nazis at UF,” which will be held outside the venue where Spencer is speaking.

Classes at the university will be conducted as planned except for those held in close proximity to the speech venue, the school said.

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A student walks past a banner and slogan on Wednesday at the University of Florida. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

University president Kent Fuchs urged students not to attend the event and denounced Spencer’s white nationalism.

“By shunning him and his followers we will block his attempt for further visibility,” Fuchs said in a statement earlier this month.

The death in Charlottesville, home to the flagship campus of the University of Virginia, occurred as counter-protesters were dispersing. A 20-year-old man who is said by law enforcement to have harboured Nazi sympathies smashed his car into the crowd, killing a 32-year-old woman.

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