White Nationalist Richard Spencer Met By Protesters At University Of Florida

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Gainesville, Fla., it was a turbulent day of counter-protests when white nationalist Richard Spencer came to speak on the University of Florida campus. After months of negotiations with the university, he came to deliver a speech and take questions despite all the protesters and scores of police. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Gainesville. Greg, what happened today on campus?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, Ari, this - you'll recall that Richard Spencer of course is the man who led the rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August that led to violence. And a woman was killed after a man drove his car into a crowd of protesters. Well, he was in the Performing Arts center today at the University of Florida, giving his speech. It was partially filled. It holds about 700. Protesters, people who didn't want him to speak - they didn't like his message - outnumbered his supporters by at least 10 to 1. So it's a very loud scene inside, lots of heckling going on disrupt his speech. Here's how it went for much of his 90-minute speech today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD SPENCER: I am speaking to you reasonably and rationally, and I am going to allow many of you to speak as well. You are not speaking. You are screaming and attempting to create a mob that is going to shut down free speech. I would have no respect for myself if I allowed this kind of behavior to pass.

SHAPIRO: Greg, why did the University of Florida decide to let him come to the campus and speak?

ALLEN: Well, they did deny him at first, but this is a public university, and it has a tradition of allowing community groups to rent facilities on campus. And given that, when they started talking to their lawyers, they realized that if they could make sure there was not going to be violence, they could ensure security, they could pick a place that would make sure that students were all safe, that they really couldn't deny him. They'd probably lose in court. So they finally allowed him a negotiated time and place, and they took steps to enhance security. We had a state of emergency in the state which brought in law enforcement officers from all around today. So it actually went off without a lot of violence today.

SHAPIRO: This is not the first college campus that Richard Spencer has spoken at. He's been to the University of Virginia, Auburn University. Why is he focusing on colleges?

ALLEN: It's part of his strategy he has that he calls his campus tour strategy. And it's been somewhat successful for him. He said by going to these campuses, it allows him to challenge free speech and to reach people, his followers. But it hasn't been that easy to actually make it happen. Here's what he said at a news conference today.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SPENCER: I thought this college tour was going to be easy, that we'd call people up and I would come and speak to students. The fact is, it has been difficult. There are roadblocks at every place along the way.

ALLEN: Given what happened in Charlottesville, you can understand why the roadblocks have been the case. The university's very, you know, uncertain and very - don't - really don't want him to come here. He feels that Charlottesville, though, was successful, he said, for his movement and for his followers, although he said he regretted the violence there. Although that said, they do refuse to take any kind of responsibility for the violence that happened or for the death of Heather Heyer, you know, the woman who was killed when that man drove into the car - the crowd of protesters.

SHAPIRO: And what about violence in Gainesville, Fla., today?

ALLEN: You know, we had so many police on the grounds. I'd say there was probably as many police here as there were certainly supporters of him. I'd say over - well over a hundred police. And they did a good job kind of putting barricades up and keeping people in their place. When the event ended, you had about 30 or 40 of Spencer's supporters come filing out. And there were some scuffles. Some of those guys started exchanging words, and things got tense there for a few minutes. There were some punches thrown.

SHAPIRO: OK.

ALLEN: But generally that was it.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Allen, thanks a lot.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.