(GAINESVILLE, Fla.) — Police have geared up for protests expected this afternoon on the University of Florida campus where self-described white nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to host an event.
Widespread security measures are in place throughout the city of Gainesville, Florida, where the school is located. The added precaution stems partly from Gov. Rick Scott’s Wednesday decision to declare a state of emergency before the event.
The emergency action “enables various law enforcement agencies to work together more efficiently” and call in support from multiple jurisdictions, according to the school’s website.
Leading up to the start of the event, audience members at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts began to boo before Spencer even took the stage. Once he did, attendees began chanting phrases like “Go home, Spencer!” and “Say it loud, say it clear, Nazis are not welcome here!”
Spencer berated the audience for believing in free speech but not letting him speak.
“What are you trying to achieve then?” Spencer asked the crowd. “You all have an amazing opportunity to be a part of the most important free speech event perhaps in our lifetime. This is when the rubber hits the road with the question of the First Amendment.”
While demonstrations remained peaceful, police continued to circulate among protesters and reporters in the street near the auditorium after the event began.
One flare-up in the crowd occurred when a man wearing a shirt with Nazi swastikas entered the anti-Spencer protest area. The man was in the area for work and wanted to hear Spencer speak, he said.
As the man walked through the crowd, he was quickly surrounded by protesters and chanting. He also appeared to have been punched in the mouth and was seen with blood on his teeth and running down his mouth.
The protesters surrounded the man as he walked off campus. At first, police were not able to keep the crowd away from him and had to fall back several times. Police in riot gear and others with batons eventually formed a line to stop the crowd and escorted the man away.
An armed security guard was arrested for carrying a firearm on school property Thursday afternoon, according to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. Orlando resident Sean Brijmohan, 28, had a permit to carry a gun, but carrying a firearm on school grounds is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Brijmohan was a privately hired security guard working with a media team. Police immediately disarmed him before placing him in handcuffs and leading him away.
Officials made a second arrest on a 34-year-old Gainesville resident for resisting an officer without violence, the sheriff’s office said.
The Gainesville Police Department is investigating reports that an “‘average’-looking white male” fired a single shot into a group of people in the parking lot of a CVS off campus. No one was hit by the gunfire, and it is unclear if the incident is related to the protests against Spencer’s speech, police said.
Five minor injuries were treated by fire and rescue teams on the scene, officials said.
“Despite our worst fears of violence, the University of Florida and the Gainesville community showed the world that love wins,” said University of Florida President Kent Fuchs. “We’re exceptionally grateful to our law enforcement partners and Governor Scott for providing the resources necessary to ensure the safety of our campus and community.”
Spencer is president of a group called the National Policy Institute, which asked to organize an event on the public campus. The university originally denied his request in September, weeks after the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, based on safety concerns. But as a state-run entity prohibited from blocking free expression, the school ultimately honored the request, according to its website.
The Gainesville Police Department posted a message on its Facebook page Wednesday, writing “For months, GPD has been preparing a comprehensive safety and security plan for this week.”
The heightened concern about the event stems from the violent protests and counterprotests that prevented his scheduled event in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. One person died after a car drove into a crowd of protesters and roughly 19 others were injured.
But as a state-run entity prohibited from blocking free expression, the school ultimately honored the request, according to its website.
“We have been very tight-lipped about our security measures for good reason … and it’s to keep you safe,” the GPD statement read.
“We won’t get in to exact numbers … but you can rest assured that there are plenty of extra law enforcement officers in town to help in any situation.”
Security costs from for the University of Florida Police Department, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies total more than $500,000, according to the school website.
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