University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs said Wednesday that he weighed the First Amendment rights of White nationalists against the risk to the safety of his students in denying a request by the group to rent space on campus for an event on September 12. Texas A&M, on Monday, had denied permission for a similar rally on its campus on September 11.
The decisions were made in the aftermath of a deadly confrontation over the weekend between a group that included White nationalists and neo-Nazis and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The protestors are opposed to plans to remove a statue of the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E. Lee, from the park that bore his name before recently being renamed Emancipation Park.
Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and dozens injured when a car, allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio, rammed into a group of counter-protesters. In addition, two Virginia State Police pilots were killed in a helicopter crash as they monitored the demonstrations.
Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, said his organization had been in coordinating an event with the university in Gainesville, Florida. Spencer, who had attended the protests in Charlottesville, said in a text message to the Associated Press that “such a brazen attack on free speech from a public university is infuriating.”
On the other hand, Fuchs said in a statement Wednesday: “I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for.”
Spencer’s group recently won a judgment against Auburn University after it rescinded permission for an event in April. A federal judge ruled that the talk would proceed as planned and also ordered the university to pay nearly $30,000 in legal fees.
Janine Sikes, a UF spokeswoman, said this is the first time that officials can recall the university denying such a request due to fears of violence or hate speech.
“I can’t say for the last 100 years, but we’re not aware of ever doing this in recent history.”
Contributing: The Associated Press