By Zachary Fagenson
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Hundreds of police will be deployed at the University of Florida on Thursday as thousands are poised to protest a speech by an avowed white nationalist, an event that prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency in preparation for possible violence.
Richard Spencer’s speech at the university in Gainesville comes about two months after rallies by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to violent clashes with counter-protesters and killed at least one person. The flare-up challenged U.S. President Donald Trump and stoked a smoldering national debate on race.
Spencer, who heads the National Policy Institute, is scheduled to speak from 2:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) at a performing arts center. The university said no one at the university invited him to speak and it was obligated under law to allow the event.
The National Policy Institute is vetting which reporters it will allow inside to cover the speech, university officials said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups in the United States, said Spencer is “a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America.”
The Orlando Sentinel newspaper quoted Spencer as saying the emergency declaration issued this week was “flattering” but “most likely overkill.”
About 3,000 people have signed up on a Facebook page to say they will be attending a protest rally called “No Nazis at UF,” which will be held outside the venue where Spencer is speaking.
The university said it will spend more than $500,000 on security. It did not provide details on tactics but among the groups dispatched will be the University of Florida Police Department, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Highway Patrol.
Classes at the university will be conducted as planned except for those held in close proximity to the speech venue, the school said.
University President Kent Fuchs urged students not to attend the event and denounced Spencer’s white nationalism.
“By shunning him and his followers we will block his attempt for further visibility,” Fuchs said in a statement earlier this month.
The death in Charlottesville, home to the flagship campus of the University of Virginia, occurred as counter-protesters were dispersing. A 20-year-old man who is said by law enforcement to have harbored Nazi sympathies smashed his car into the crowd, killing a 32-year-old woman.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler)