White Nationalist Speech at University of Florida Underway as Protesters Decry ‘Nazi Hate'

Inside the venue, dozens of officers in riot gear stood guard around the auditorium

Crowds of demonstrators gathered at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville Thursday, holding signs and chanting anti-Nazi slogans in protest of a speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Hundreds of police officers stood outside the UF Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to prevent violence. 

Anti-Spencer protesters shouted, "Not in our town! Not in our state! We don't want your Nazi hate!"

Inside the venue, dozens of officers in riot gear stood guard around the auditorium. Throughout the event, protesters tried to drown out Spencer's speech, chanting "go home Spencer" and "black lives matter."   

Spencer, who preaches a fiery brand of politics and looks to preserve a white majority in America, was one of the organizers of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August that left one counter demonstrator dead and several others injured when a vehicle plowed into a crowd of people.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials urged people to ignore Spencer and his event. On Tuesday, Scott even declared a state of emergency to direct resources to ensure the community's safety during the event.

"The values of our universities are not shared by Mr. Spencer, the National Policy Institute or his followers," UF President W. Kent Fuchs said in a taped message earlier this week. "Our campuses are places where people from all races, origins and religions are welcome and or treated with love."

Fuchs estimates the school will spend $600,000 on security for Spencer's speech. The school has called in hundreds of law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and city sources. Streets will be blocked off, and movement around the campus tightly controlled.

The president said Spencer is "hijacking" public universities — which are compelled by the First Amendment to provide a speaking forum — and forcing taxpayers to pay the resulting security costs. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government, in this case a public university, cannot charge speakers for security costs.

Earlier in the day, Spencer got into a heated exchange with NBC News reporter Kerry Sanders during a press conference before his speaking event.

Spencer denied Sanders claim that he would "only allow my extremist supporters into the audience" and demanded a retraction.

Sanders reported on the "Today" show Thursday that Spencer had 700 tickets to distribute for the event and would "only give them to those who believe in his extremist beliefs." 

"I have said the exact opposite of that on multiple occasions to many reporters," Spencer said. "So, one of two things happened: You were ignorant of this and you didn't do suitable research, which is understandable, I've certainly made lots of mistakes. Or you lied. So I'm curious, which of those two things happened."

Spencer initially refused to take questions until Sanders retracted his statement, to which the reporter responded, "Let’s try this: Tick tock. People are here to hear you speak."

The school initially said it would not approve an application for the speech from the National Policy Institute before reversing course, saying while they disapprove of Spencer’s message, he has a First Amendment right to speak at the public university.

The leader of the conservative alt-right movement recently spoke of his First Amendment right and his upcoming speech in Gainesville.

"This is where the rubber hits the road, this is where free speech is really meaningful," he said in an alt-right podcast online. "It's not just some abstract concept. I mean every single American citizen, if you ask them, 'Do you support free speech?' 99.9 percent of them say ‘Yes, of course we love free speech.'"

Spencer's National Policy Institute is paying $10,564 to rent space for the speaking event.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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