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US: Florida braces for next ‘Charlottesville’ in run-up to white supremacist talk

Spencer is a leader and spokesperson for the so-called alt-right movement. Source: Reuters/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Alachua County, the area where the University of Florida (UF) Gainsville campus is located in, has been declared to be in a state of emergency by Florida governor Rick Scott in the run-up to a speech by a top white supremacist figure set to be held on campus on Thursday.

“I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent and hereby declare a state of emergency in Alachua County,” Scott wrote in an executive order he signed on Monday.

It’s not a sign of heightened threat, UF says, but the declaration would allow different agencies – like UF and Gainsville police departments, the Alachua County Sheriff’s office, and agencies providing first responders – to mobilise and cooperate more easily if need be, according to Quartz.

The white supremacist, Richard Spencer, has described the declaration as “overkill”, as quoted by USA Today.

“If someone is coming to speak, I feel like declaring the state of emergency is out of bounds,” Spencer said.

“I feel like this may be an excuse to cancel the event but I simply don’t know.”

The emergency declaration is in response to protests scheduled for Thursday against Richard Spencer, who heads The National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think-tank.

Though he was initially refused permission to hold his speech at UF for fear that what had happened at Charlottesville might repeat in Gainsville, the school later said it is legally required to allow Spencer to speak on campus as it is not allowed to limit free speech (including hate speech). Spencer is slated to speak at the school’s Phillips Centre.

In September, a rally “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of a leader in the pro-slavery Confederate army, known as an affront to African-American, turned into a national tragedy when a 20-year-old Adolf Hitler fan smashed his car into the crowd. A 32-year-old woman was killed while 30 others were injured, Reuters reported.

Spencer had returned to Charlottesville on Oct 7 to lead a white-nationalist march through the University of Virginia campus, where the September tragedy occurred.

Although university president Kent Fuchs have urged student and staff to refrain from animated protests, Quartz notes that there are nearly three thousand people who have said they will be attending “No Nazis At UF” a Facebook event page set up to protest Spencer’s gig, with another 7,000 plus saying they are interested, as at Oct 16.

“We must not allow fascists to have a public platform. We must stand together in the fight against white supremacy and fascism, and defend the most marginalized of our communities,” the page wrote.

Organisers plan to coordinate rides to campus to protest the event and to ensure that what happened in Charlottesville will not happen in Gainsville.

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