How Gainesville Responds to Richard Spencer

By Vivian El-Salawy on October 23, 2017

On Monday, October 16, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the City of Gainesville, with incoming Richard Spencer as a white nationalist speaker coming to the University of Florida.

The University of Florida did what they could to avoid his presence on campus, but were unable to do so, as they were bound by the First Amendment. However, the Tampa Bay reports that the university still found itself paying a mind-numbing sum of approximately $500,000 on security costs, as the university is responsible for funding the security and protection for the students attending the university.

Local public schools, from preschool to high school, sent out notices to students and parents regarding their caution in the situation, however, did not shut down classes. WCJB reported that school buses re-routed around road closures and that additional staff and security were implemented in public schools around Alachua County; however, after communicating with local law enforcement, they came to the conclusion that it would be safer to have the children in school.

“It’s also a decision that we don’t make lightly because we realize that closing our schools put a lot of families in a tough situation as far as child care to supervision that can create its own safety problems,” Jackie Johnson said, as the director of Communications and Community Initiatives.

While there is much debate surrounding how to handle Richard Spencer’s presence on the University of Florida’s campus, many argued not to give him the attention he wants and to simply ignore him, which is certainly difficult for many who strongly counter Spencer’s beliefs.

Having said that, there is a movement called “Chalk Out Hate–Gainesville.” “Chalk Out Hate” inspired those in the downtown community as well, in spreading messages of love and not hate. One example is the Hippodrome Theatre — a regional theatre located in Downtown Gainesville, not far from the University of Florida campus. On Wednesday, the day before Richard Spencer’s speech, Florida Today reported that Hippodrome employees wrote messages such as “All Welcome!,” “Peach Be With You!,” and “Love Note Hate!” in colorful writing on the sidewalk outside of their theatre building.

Image via Chalk Out Hate

Additionally, Alligator Brewing Company made a deal to the community that if they bring in two general public tickets for the event (which are free of charge) to the brewery, that they would trade those two tickets in exchange for a free Alligator Brewing draft beer.

“We unfortunately can’t stop him from bringing his hate to Gainesville, but we can empty the room so his disgusting message goes unheard,” read one of the graphics posted on their Facebook page.

Image via Alligator Brewing Co.

Sororities and fraternities joined, displaying solidarity with banners that read “Love Not Hate.”

The iconic 34th street wall, known for relevant graffiti and wall art that changes on a weekly (and sometimes even daily) basis, stood in unison against Richard Spencer’s arrival at the University of Florida. A black and white piece of art reading, “You cannot stay silent #no nazis at UF” took up a large portion of the wall.

Image via USA Today

Gainesville, as a general community, seemed to support one another, regardless of political stance. It seemed that the overall community stood for peace within their hometown.

Jordan Fulkerson, a senior at the University of Florida, shared her experience at the protest, revealing it to be relatively peaceful.

“The protest itself was very peaceful, outside of one incident, when the guy wearing swastikas got into the crowd. There were many different chants going around, and it was clear that people of every race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation were in the crowd. It was really nice to see that kind of unity,” Fulkerson said.

“While different businesses were trying to keep people from seeing him by allowing people to turn in tickets for free beer, they ended up just selling tickets the day of so a lot of students against him actually got to go in and protest from the inside. The event wasn’t permitting anyone with inappropriate or inflammatory clothing into the building,” she added. “In terms of security, I think UF handled it very well. It definitely would have gotten violent if there hadn’t been so many police there.”

Image via George El-Salawy

Fulkerson went on to add that she believed the University of Florida could have taken an extra step by canceling class altogether, as some of her peers still had exams on that day and were expected to proceed as normal. However, she said students feared entering campus between Spencer’s presence, the protests, and his supporters.

Fulkerson expressed that within the past year, the University of Florida has had many racially motivated incidents, protected by the fact that they remained in free speech zones within the public university. Having said that, the administration did little to make the minority students feel safe on campus, outside of statements of condolences and disagreements. With the Richard Spencer event, she felt as though more could have been done to reassure safety to targeted minorities.

While free speech has been an active topic for debate, particularly within the past year or two, this has opened up an entirely new path on where a line may need to be drawn. There are different types of speeches that are not protected by the First Amendment. The Newseum Institute outlines that there are nine basic categories of unprotected speech, including:


•Fighting words


•Child pornography



•Incitement to imminent lawless action

•True threats

•Solicitations to commit crimes

Whether or not hate speech is something that should be protected under the First Amendment is the greatest of these debates. Many claim that freedom of speech means freedom of speech — even if they strongly disagree with the argument or cause being discussed, the speakers have the right to present their thoughts freely. However, other students believe that offensive ideas should not be acceptable in free speech zones on campus.

Currently, hate speech that directly threatens or encourages violence is illegal, however, more verbally offensive insults are technically not. While this is a topic that is currently being discussed, it may continue to be discussed and debated for years to come.

Vivian El-Salawy is a graduate of Florida State University with a B.A. in Editing, Writing, and Media with minors in Slavic (Russian) Studies and Communications. Alongside writing for Uloop News, WVFS Tallahassee 89.7 FM, and editing for the Good Life Community magazine, she is heavily involved with a Tau Beta Sigma, a national honorary sorority that promotes women in the band profession.

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