GAINESVILLE, Florida—If you’re thinking about attending a Richard Spencer lecture in the future, don’t be surprised by the pissed-off crowd waiting to greet you outside.
So was the scene here at the University of Florida as hundreds of protesters gathered in solidarity against Spencer, the white supremacist and self-proclaimed founder of the alternative right, or alt-right for short.
The lecture by Spencer would once again bring out into the open a live-action version of Internet chat rooms: full of bigotry, anonymous Twitter profiles sporting “Pepe the Frog” bio pictures, and modern-day white supremacists. It would be Spencer’s first planned speech on a college campus since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left Heather Heyer dead after James Fields Jr., 20, reportedly rammed his silver Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counterprotesters.
Overcast skies loomed overhead Thursday afternoon, as if to signal the proverbial calm before the storm—students, faculty members, and protesters gathered by the hundreds outside the Curtis M. Phillips Performing Arts Center with posters proclaiming “Love Not Hate” and chants of “We don’t want your Nazi hate,” amid an army of law-enforcement officers, hovering police helicopters, and a swarm of media coverage.
The crowd bottlenecked the entrance created for alt-right supporters to enter the Phillips Center as Spencer’s associates began to hand out tickets for the event amid a Cessna airplane flying circles overhead with a sign that read, “Love Conquers Hate! Love Will Prevail!”
Spencer held a press conference at 12:45 p.m.; however, the far-right National Policy Institute (NPI) pre-screened which media outlets could cover the conference and the subsequent lecture scheduled for two hours later. The Daily Beast was not among those chosen to enter the event.
On Twitter, live-streaming broadcasts showed Spencer being met with a barrage of criticism and chants for him to “Go home.”
Spencer in defiance lamented, “I’m not going home, I will stand here all day if I have to.” Yet the heckling continued through his lecture, for which NPI paid $10,564 in order to rent the facility and additional security. A financial drop in the bucket compared to the $600,000 UF and law-enforcement agencies spent to provide additional security after Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency ahead of Spencer’s arrival.
Because of a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, Spencer can not be burdened with paying for the additional security, under a First Amendment legal doctrine known as the “heckler’s veto” in the case of Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement.
University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs denounced Spencer’s visit in a letter to students, but said the school could not stop him from renting the Phillips Center. “For the record, I don’t stand behind racist Richard Spencer. I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message.”
As protesters waited outside the Phillips Center for alt-right supporters to emerge, conversations within the crowd ranged from Spencer racially profiling who could enter the building to hear his lecture, to anger directed at the massive police presence for providing protection for the event, sparking debates within the crowd of police brutality and racial oppression.
“This is what happens, you protect the fascists,” said one counterprotester. “I’m aggrieved, I’m appalled, I’m angry. I feel betrayed by my state, by my city, by my university. Nobody is standing up for us and our rights. This person wants to come in and kill me, kill me and my family… using your right to free speech… to take away my right to exist… that is not free speech, that is hate speech and that’s where I draw the line.”
However, some counterprotesters thanked the police officers for their service.
One alt-right supporter The Daily Beast spoke with was Martin Poirier, a self-proclaimed member of #FrogTwitter from Tampa, Florida. “I’ve been listening to him [Spencer] for five years now,” Poirier said. “I’ve listened to a lot of his content and agree with him on a lot of points.” Poirier said he doesn’t believe in one white state, but there should be “many white states.”
“I’m worried about my safety, I almost got beat up by three African Americans last night and when I was walking here, a car full of African Americans threaten me and tried to assault me,” Poirier said.
The Daily Beast could not verify Poirier’s claims of attempted assault.
Poirier would later be swarmed by a mob of protesters that heavily outnumbered supporters of Spencer, as he exited the Phillips Center. Video captured by The Daily Beast and posted on this reporter’s Periscope account shows Poirier being escorted out of the area by protesters amid shouts to Poirier to “Get the fuck out!”
The video goes on to show Poirier walking down SW 34th Street when an unidentified white woman with blond hair walking next to Poirier, along with an unidentified black man behind Poirier, attempt to grab an object from Poirier’s pocket. A scuffle ensues as Poirier yells to a nearby police officer, “This guy went for my wallet!”
The crowd denied the claim as the unidentified black man, yells “He’s got a weapon! He’s got a weapon!”
Poirier reaches into his pocket as local sheriff’s office deputies quickly apprehend Poirier, telling him to “stop resisting” as they search his pockets.
Poirier would be escorted out of the area under police guard after officers found no weapon. Poirier was not arrested.
In observing the crowd, some seemed to be there to legitimately protest Spencer and his white-supremacist platform, while others were looking for sparks of violence to break out in order for them to whip out their cellphones in hopes of capturing the moment for social-media clickbait.
As more alt-righters exited the Phillips Center, counterprotesters would swarm the individuals and one-by-one remove them from the area, chanting “Shame” and “Nazis are not welcome.” Most alt-right supporters would require a police escort in order to move safety out of the area.
One unidentified man wearing red suspenders with a white T-shirt with multiple swastikas would receive a right hook to the jaw from an unidentified black man wearing a green hoodie, a black hat, and black sunglasses. The man with the Nazi T-shirt would be forcefully removed from the area as blood could be seen dripping from his mouth.
A little after 5 p.m., the University of Florida Police Department began to return the campus to routine operations, asking those in attendance to peacefully leave. Over the course of the event, university police arrested two individuals; Sean Brijmohan, 28, from Orlando, Florida, was hired by a media outlet for protection. Brijmohan was carrying a firearm, which is against a Florida statute. Another individual, 34-year-old David Notte, was arrested for resisting without violence. He was booked at the Alachua County Jail.
In a livestream broadcast later in the evening, Spencer said NPI is planning to sue for the right for him to speak at Penn State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Cincinnati.