A speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida has sparked huge protests, with hundreds of demonstrators descending on the campus.
The talk comes two months after Spencer was a featured speaker at the ‘Unite The Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which led to a deadly clash between neo-Nazis and counter-protestors.
Protesters chanting “Go home Nazis” sought to drown out Spencer’s speech as the campus erected barricades and deployed hundreds of police officers to guard against unrest, Reuters reported.
On Monday, Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency ahead of the event over fears that it could lead to Charlottesville-style violence.
Inside the venue, Spencer and protesters yelled at one another.
“I’m not going home,” Spencer said. “We are stronger than you and you all know it!”
About 15 white men, all dressed in white shirts and khaki pants, raised their hands when Spencer asked who identified with the alt-right, a loose grouping characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.
The university - who claimed they did not invite Spencer to speak, but were obligated by law to allow the event - said it had spent more than $500,000 on security.
Meanwhile, the National Policy Institute - of which Spencer is the head - has also spent around $10,000 on renting the venue and putting security measures in place.
“This is going to be an important dialogue for the entire community,” Spencer said on Twitter.
But marching towards the event’s venue, protestors in Gainesville chanted: “Not in our town, not in our state, we don’t want your Nazi hate!”, while calls of “No Trump, no KKK, no Facist USA!” were also heard.
A plane also flew overhead with a sign that read “Love conquers hate! Love will prevail!”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors U.S. hate groups, called Spencer is “a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America.”
An outspoken supporter of Trump during the 2016 campaign, Spencer rose from relative obscurity after widely circulated videos showed some Trump supporters giving Nazi-style salutes to Spencer during a gathering in Washington to celebrate the Republican candidate’s win. Trump condemned the meeting.
The Orlando Sentinel newspaper quoted Spencer as saying the emergency declaration issued this week was “flattering” but “most likely overkill.”
While a HuffPost journalist at the scene of the protest reported no initial reports of violence, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said a man hired as security for media was arrested for illegally carrying a firearm on campus.
One undergraduate, Wes Li, said that while the majority of classes at the university were set to be held, many students were staying away from campus.
“It’s very tense and upsetting,” Li told reporters.
University President Kent Fuchs urged students not to attend the event and denounced Spencer’s white nationalism.
“I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message,” Fuchs said on Twitter on Thursday.