Florida is typically accustomed to declarations of emergencies related to weather events. But Gov. Rick Scott is issuing an unusual type of state emergency this week in preparation for a white supremacist who plans to speak at a state university.
Richard Spencer will speak at the University of Florida in Gainesville on the topic of white identity and creating a “homeland” for whites within the United States. The speech, which will take place on Thursday, Oct. 19, will cost the university more than $500,000.
Because Spencer’s hate speeches have resulted in violence elsewhere — including when he joined neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in dozens of injuries against counter-protesters and the murder of progressive activist Heather Heyer — the Republican governor of Florida has determined he must issue the emergency proclamation.
"...I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent and hereby declare a state of emergency for Alachua County," Scott wrote in his statement.
The declaration doesn’t come from any specific threat of violence. But it does allow local and state officials greater coordination powers, as well as enforcing security at the event itself, according to VICE News.
Spencer is controversial for statements that have promoted viewpoints that align with neo-Nazi proposals. For instance, in the past, he has advocated for a European ethno-state.
“It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence,” he added.
Spencer also sparked controversy earlier this week when he suggested that women’s suffrage rights in the United States may have been a mistake.
The night before violence erupted in Charlottesville, Spencer also helped to promote a march on the city by white supremacists, who carried tiki torches and shouted, “You will not replace us!”
Spencer has stated that the order by Scott is giving him cause for concern regarding his speech.
“This worries me. I don’t get it,” he said in response. “I hope he’s doing this with good intentions.”
He added that he still intends to speak.
“I’m going to play ball,” he said.
But maybe it’s better that he doesn’t. Free speech is all well and good, but there does come a point when it’s no longer a protected right. That happens when a person’s speech results in the likely harm of other individuals — such as shouting “FIRE” in a crowded theater when no such threat exists, or suggesting there’s a bomb on a plane just to create a panic.
The onus is on the state to prove when such events, like Spencer’s, pose security threats that could cause significant harm. And it may well be that such an introspection could still allow for a speech like Spencer's to go on.
But if ever a situation could present itself, where an imminent threat of violence seems likely, it would be this upcoming speech in Florida.
Spencer’s rhetoric seems to purposely inspire violence in others. It’s questionable whether the expensive security costs, and the potential harm that could befall individuals protesting him, is worth granting him the forum he seeks to disseminate his extremist ideals.
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS, Joshua Roberts