White supremacist Richard Spencer’s next two events on college campuses have both been cancelled in the wake of the violence at his previous event at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Spencer had plans for a Texas A&M event on September 11, and another one at the University of Florida on September 12. The events were cancelled out of concern for the universities’ students’ safety.
This decision was made after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: “The Next Battlefield is in Florida.”
I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for.
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.
Texas A&M announced its decision on Monday. In its statement, the university noted that Spencer previously spoke there in December 2016 and all precautions were taken to make sure it was a peaceful event. However, the university instituted a new policy where no outside individual or group could use campus facilities without sponsorship from a university-sanctioned group. The Texas A&M statement continues:
None of the 1200-plus campus organizations invited Preston Wiginton nor did they agree to sponsor his events in December 2016 or on September 11 of this year. With no university facilities afforded him, he chose instead to plan his event outdoors for September 11 at Rudder Plaza, in the middle of campus, during a school day, with a notification to the media under the headline “Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M.”
Linking the tragedy of Charlottesville with the Texas A&M event creates a major security risk on our campus. Additionally, the daylong event would provide disruption to our class schedules and to student, faculty and staff movement (both bus system and pedestrian).
The universities’ decisions come after the violence in Charlottesville, where one person and 19 others were injured when a car driven by a suspect with ties to white supremacists drove into a crowd of counter-protesters. It also follows President Donald Trump’s controversial responses to the events, in which he has blamed both sides for the violence.
“Really proud of him,” Spencer, a major figure in the alt-right movement, told the Atlantic after Trump’s Tuesday remarks. “He bucked the narrative of Alt-Right violence, and made a statement that is fair and down to earth. C’ville could have hosted a peaceful rally — just like our event in May — if the police and mayor had done their jobs. Charlottesville needed to police the streets and police the antifa, whose organizations are dedicated to violence.”