Gainesville braces for worst as white nationalist speech nears

Richard Spencer set to speak Thursday at University of Florida

By Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - In less than 24 hours, white nationalist Richard Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida, and his scheduled appearance is already the talk of the campus.

Law enforcement personnel in Gainesville said they are preparing for the worst.

"Should you determine that it is your intention to offer up violence to our community, to our law enforcement officers, we will take action," Alachua County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Chris Sims said. "It will be swift. It will be appropriate."

Sims said he hopes law enforcement doesn't have to act, but after the deadly events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, they aren't taking any chances.

"We got our back," Sims said. "You know, we're here to protect you." 

Students gathered to pray ahead of the speech and some left campus altogether out of concern over violence. 

The presence of law enforcement on campus was obvious, and so was the message from students that Spencer is not welcome.

"I would say that most students don't want Richard Spencer to be coming," Bryana Tianga, a student who is from Pembroke Pines, said.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday, giving the county access to resources, including the National Guard, should things escalate.

"My goal is everybody be safe," Scott said. "You know, we have the First Amendment, everybody has their First Amendment rights, but we're not going to tolerate any violence."

Law enforcement from across the state is already in place, ready to intervene if needed.

Tianga said both of her parents work for the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Miami-Dade police and the BSO have sent resources to Gainesville.

For those who do attend the event or show up to protest, the university has posted a banner listing the many items that aren't allowed in the area, which include masks, tobacco and water bottles.

Some students are planning on protesting the speech. 

"Personally, I feel angry that the university is allowing this man to speak," student Wallace Mazon said. "We have a white supremacist, neo-Nazi coming here to spread an ideology of hate." 

The university is spending an estimated $500,000 on security for the event. 

"The costs are high, but what cost do you put on a human life or injuries," Janine Sikes, assistant vice president for public affairs at the university, said.

Copyright 2017 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.