Campus officials at the University of Florida are preparing for white nationalist Richard Spencer to visit their campus next month — and are being forced to spend upwards of $500,000 to provide him with security. It’s the latest in a series of right-wing rallies which taxpayers and beleaguered universities are picking up the bill for.
Spencer, fresh off leading another torch rally at Charlottesville, will travel to Gainesville, Florida on October 19th, despite the University not inviting him or wanting him to host his event there. “People are concerned for their well-being and safety,” senior Dwayne Fletcher told the Washington Post. “Gainesville will definitely have a different atmosphere in the days to come, and afterward, because of his presence.”
According to the Washington Post, the university is also being forced to close several key medical centers, including surgery centers and outpatient clinics, due to concerns over security and that protesters will try to disrupt or stop the event.
It’s not the first time universities have been forced to fork out huge sums of money to pay for security for far-right provocateurs. In September the University of California Berkeley was forced to spend $800,000 on Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Free Speech Week” — despite the event only amounting to only a brief, 15 minute rally after a conservative Berkeley student group ended up cancelling the full, four-day event. Eight law enforcement agencies were involved in policing the event which UC-Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof described as “probably the most expensive photo opp in the university’s history.”
“There is only one reason why the University is in the process of spending close to a million dollars on these security for these events,” Dan Mogulof told ThinkProgress in the run-up to Yiannopoulos’ supposed rally. “If these events take place we want them to be safe and peaceful.”
UC-Berkeley has been ground zero for right wing rallies, meaning the university has repeatedly had to fork out significant cash to pay for extra security. In September a speech by Ben Shapiro cost more than $600,000 to police. Another $600,000 was spent in April when Ann Coulter visited — an event which was ultimately cancelled. An additional $200,000 was spent on a previous speech Milo Yiannopoulos gave at Berkeley — which was again, cancelled, after counter-protesters rioted outside the building.
To make matters worse, UC-Berkeley is currently facing a $110 million budget deficit, and the Chancellor Carol Christ has asked the school to make more than $25 million in cuts before the 2018 fiscal year. “They spent $600,000 to defend hate speech,” UC Berkeley alum Juan Prieto said, in reference to the Shapiro rally. “That’s money that could have gone to students who are housing insecure or skipping meals.”
But it’s not just university rallies that the taxpayers are picking up the tab for. When a few dozen free speech activists staged a rally in Boston just a few days after the Charlottesville attack, it cost police more than $235,000 in overtime to protect them. “They’re just looking for trouble at this point”, Mayor Marty Walsh told 7 News.
Universities have previously tried to cancel Richard Spencer’s appearance on their campuses, but white nationalists have sued in order to let them speak. In April, in response to Auburn University cancelling one of Spencer’s speaking events, a federal judge ruled that “While Mr. Spencer’s beliefs are controversial, Auburn presented no evidence that Mr. Spencer advocates violence,” adding that free speech is constitutionally protected.
But Spencer is not the only far-right figurehead planning to continue his college tours at the taxpayer’s expense. Despite his failures at Berkeley, Milo Yiannopoulos is now planning a series of free speech rallies both in the U.S. and Australia, including one on Halloween in Cal State in Fullerton.