University of Florida

White nationalist speech at UF: Should I stay or should I go?

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and University of Florida President Kent Fuchs are urging students, faculty and others to shun firebrand white nationalist Richard Spencer, who’s speaking at the college tomorrow.

But Florida Democrats issued a press release this morning saying they support peaceful protestors and it’s incumbent on those who disagree with Spencer to speak out.

“The Florida Democratic Party reiterates its support for all peaceful protesters who are standing up and speaking out,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel said in the release. “We have a moral obligation to refute hate and bigotry whenever they present themselves. White supremacy is an evil we cannot ignore. When leaders like our governor fail to challenge the President for embracing white supremacists, it becomes all the more urgent that the rest of us speak out—clearly, unequivocally, and loudly. We must let it be known that we reject hatred in all its forms.”
Responding to a request by Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency for the county. The executive order allows for coordination between state and local law enforcement agencies. Darnell said her request wasn’t based on any heightened security risks, but was a preventative measure.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning, Bondi said she was praying “nothing happens” and urged students not to go to the event, while saying “there is no place for espousing these horrible, horrible views.”

Bondi said law enforcement will be well-prepared.

But, she added, “There is just no place right now for this, but you know with free speech, if he’s going to get up there and do it, then he’s going to do it. But we are going to make sure that our students and our citizens are protected.”

Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, was among the speakers at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors. Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured.
Clashes between Spencer supporters, some of whom are white supremacists and others who back his white separatist ideology, and “Antifa,” or anti-fascist, groups have taken place on other campuses where Spencer has spoken.

Alt-right speech in Hogtown: “It’s just words”

Tension continues to build in advance of alt-right activist Richard Spencer’s appearance at the University of Florida Thursday,.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning, Attorney General Pam Bondi said “there is no place for espousing these horrible, horrible views.”

Yesterday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Alachua County. County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she requested the emergency declaration so she could make sure she had the necessary resources, just in case.

Spencer was one of the key organizers of an August “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors. Heather Heyer, 31, was killed, and dozens were injured.

Appearances by Spencer in other college towns also sparked melees, causing concern by state and local officials who fear similar clashes in Hogtown.

Bondi defended Scott’s emergency declaration when asked if it might worsen an already tense situation.

“This guy’s out there espousing violence and hatred and anger and if we know that he’s going to be doing that, it’s our duty as a state … to have the resources available up front,” she said.

Spencer supporters point the finger at counter-protestors, who’ve pledged to show up en masse on Thursday, as the reason for the precautions.

Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who helped organize Spencer’s speech in Gainesville, posted a video on Twitter yesterday, with an update about how to get tickets for the event at UF’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The center was originally supposed to distribute the tickets for the 2:30 speech, Padgett said.

But organizers quashed that after learning that tickets could have been turned in for free drinks, or even money, Padgett said in the video.

“It almost seems to me that people don’t want to hear Richard Spencer speak. You know, they’re just words. We’re not even there yet, in Gainesville, at all and they’re already enacting a state of emergency based on protestors already there,” Padgett said. “What’s the state of emergency being enacted on? It’s the protestors that are there at the event, or at the venue right now. So we’re there to peacefully show up and speak, you know, words only, and if you want to debate and engage in a conversation, then I welcome everybody to be there. I think it will be a good event. I have full faith in the police to do whatever they need to do to make sure that the speech is delivered properly and safely.”

The latest on court fight over white nationalist speech (or lack of it) at UF

Representatives of Richard Spencer and the National Policy Institute are trying to work with the University of Florida to finalize a speech in less than two weeks, but the prospects are grim, according to First Amendment lawyer Gary Edinger.

Edinger represents Spencer, NPI and Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who’s involved in bringing Spencer, a leader in the “alt-right” movement, to the Gainesville campus.

The university rejected the request after a deadly outburst following a “Unite the Right” rally earlier this month in Charlottesville. One person died when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, and two Virginia state troopers also died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the situation.

Edinger said today he’s been in contact with the university in an attempt to avoid taking UF to court over Spencer’s speech.

In a letter to UF general counsel Amy Hass sent Thursday, Edinger asked if there was “any possibility of resolving this dispute short of Federal litigation.”

Edinger said his clients were willing to be flexible regarding the times and even possible date of the event.

But, he warned, “the university’s principal obligation in this regard is to ensure order so that the speech may go forward.”

In a telephone interview Thursday, Edinger remained skeptical that a lawsuit could be avoided.

“I have no idea if the university is actually interested in having this conversation. I’m interested in it. Although I litigate for living, it’s not a good way to solve problems,” the First Amendment lawyer said in a telephone interview.

Edinger acknowledged that “there are legitimate security concerns” about Spencer’s appearance, which was supposed to take place on Sept. 12.

But, he said, that doesn’t mean the university has the right to quash the speech.

“There are a range of possibilities here and what I’m trying to do is kind of the responsible thing and see if something can’t be worked out in advance and without litigation. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I’m giving it the old college try, if you’ll forgive the pun,” he said.

The likelihood of an amicable settlement seems to have dwindled, based on a memo distributed by University of Florida President Kent Fuchs yesterday:

“Dear Gator community:

Due to the threat of violence, the University of Florida denied two weeks ago a request by the National Policy Institute to rent space for a Sept. 12 event for white nationalist Richard Spencer.

We were informed late this afternoon that representatives of the organization have retained legal counsel and plan to pursue efforts to hold this event as originally requested.

No formal complaint has been filed at this time. We are prepared to vigorously defend our decision. The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority.

Our university police department has been working closely with local, state and federal agencies over the last few weeks and will continue to do so.

We understand some media organizations have been told there is a contract between the university and the National Policy Institute for the event. No contract was ever executed.

We are committed to keeping you updated as we receive new information. In addition, UF’s information line at 1-866-UF-FACTS (833-2287) may also be a resource.”

The violence in Charlottesville may have created security issues for UF, but his clients are not responsible for picking up the tab, Edinger said.

“The nature of speech is topical and we don’t have a long attention span in America. This is a topical thing right now so eyeballs are glued to television screens,” he said. My client is really the First Amendment. Politically and socially I have nothing in common with my clients but they have a right to speak.”

 

Scott medical marijuana research vetoes not a problem, at least for now

IMG_2721Amid all the consternation over medical marijuana, Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s $400 million-plus vetoes included more than $3 million for cannabis research.

Scott axed $2 million for the University of Florida’s cannabis research initiative. UF was originally tasked with tracking the state’s high-CBD, low-THC law passed in 2014. But the university was never enthusiastic about the endeavor, in part because cannabis remained illegal under federal law, raising questions for university officials about whether pot research might undermine funding for other programs.

This year, lawmakers steered more than $1 million in pot research toward the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute for the “Coalition for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Education Board,” an entity created by the Legislature during the 2017 session in a measure that never passed.

Scott vetoed $370,000 for to create the board at the Moffitt Center because the Tampa-based center “received a total of $10.6 million in Fiscal Year 2017-2018 and has the ability to fund this initiative,” according to the governor’s veto message.

Scott also red-lined $750,000 for pot research at the center because it was contingent upon legislation that never passed.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who was instrumental in the passage of the 2014 low-THC bill and has been a major player in the marijuana legislation that failed to pass this year, said he was bummed that Scott vetoed the MMJ research money.

But Bradley told The News Service of Florida Monday he’s not overly troubled that Scott axed the funding for the UF research.

“The center of gravity, in terms of where medical marijuana research and data collection is going to take place, is moving away from the University of Florida and towards Moffitt,” Bradley said.

While UF may have had a stone-faced approach to the pot research, the Moffitt Center — founded by onetime House speaker Lee Moffitt, a Democrat — was enthusiastic about the endeavor.

Bradley said he was “very disappointed” in Scott’s veto of the Moffitt funds, which totaled more than $1 million.

But he predicted the research has a shinier future, once the Legislature officially creates the research-centered coalition based at Moffitt .

“I think that will make the argument much more compelling to include that in future budgets. So I’m confident that in the future this won’t be an issue,” Bradley said.

— Posted by Dara Kam