- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2017

The University of Florida is preparing to let white nationalist Richard Spencer speak on campus next month after pulling the plug on a previously scheduled appearance over safety concerns voiced in the wake of last month’s deadly far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Mr. Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute white nationalist think-tank, initially planned to speak at the University of Florida next Tuesday, Sept. 12, but the school canceled his appearance after the Charlottesville rally descended into chaos. He subsequently threatened a lawsuit, and campus officials reacted last week by saying he could reschedule.

The University of Florida is now weighing the possibility of hosting Mr. Spencer on Oct. 19, the school said in a statement Thursday — an effective win, as far as Mr. Spencer is concerned.

“It’s happening,” Mr. Spencer told The Washington Times Thursday. “Total victory,” he said in a text message.

Mr. Spencer, 39, first gained notoriety last year for his association with the so-called alt-right, a far-right ideology he’s widely credited with coining, but made waves again last month on account of his involvement in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Mr. Spencer had been scheduled to headline the event – a gathering attended by neo-Nazis, Klansmen and other extremists – but the rally was canceled when attendees violently clashed with protesters before it officially started.

A man identified as a “Unite the Right” attendee later drove an automobile into a crowd of protesters, injuring several and killing one, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, according to police.

Several schools have denied requests from NPI and Mr. Spencer in the aftermath, but the University of Florida said last week it was willing to consider hosting him on an alternate date.

“UF remained firm in its decision to deny space for an event on Sept. 12,” it said Thursday. “However, this group has made a request for a new date.”

“As a public institution, UF is required by law to make a good faith effort to provide options for a reasonable date, time and campus venue, no matter how much we detest the points of views expressed. As with any event, we also have a responsibility to assess safety and security risks, and will continue to do so until the event,” the statement said.

Despite Mr. Spencer’s insistence, however, the college declined to definitively say it’s authorized next month’s likely event.

“The Oct. 19 date is not official until we are satisfied that we can avert safety risks, and that a formal facilities contract is signed and all appropriate rental and security costs have been paid,” it said Thursday.

Campus officials have been meeting daily for the last month with state, local and federal law enforcement agencies in order to draft a security plan ahead of Mr. Spencer’s planned appearance, the statement said, and they intend on weighing the likely risks and associated costs involved with hosting him before giving his request its final approval.

“While this event is not in any way affiliated with the university, UF supports the constitutional right to free speech, and our role as a public university includes legal obligations to allow a wide range of viewpoints to be expressed by external groups – even when they are contrary to the core values of our university,” the statement said.

Gary Edinger, a Gainesville attorney who negotiated the event on behalf of Mr. Spencer and one of its organizers, Cameron Padgett, said he expects a formal contract will be signed with the school in the next few days.

“This was no doubt a sensitive and difficult issue for the University of Florida, but all citizens should be pleased that the First Amendment was ultimately respected,” Mr. Edinger said Thursday.

Other colleges, meanwhile, aren’t on the same page. A spokesman for Ohio State said Wednesday that the school has denied a request to host Mr. Spencer next month due citing the possibility of “substantial risk to public safety,” putting it in the same category as other colleges that have rejected him recently including Michigan State, Penn State and Texas A&M.


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