In order to protect white supremacist Richard Spencer’s right to troll the University of Florida, state officials assembled a small army — one that came with a hefty price tag to taxpayers.
Hundreds of officers from the University of Florida Police Department, the Gainesville Police Department, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department for Law Enforcement, and the Florida Highway Patrol all descended on the school to ensure the event went off without a hitch and that the tragic mistakes of Charlottesville were not repeated. Nothing was left to chance. Snipers and SWAT teams were on hand, and hundreds of officers from the FHP’s Quick Reaction Force were present to help keep protesters at bay.
All told, the cost of security at Thursday’s speech reached as high as $600,000 — which the University of Florida will now have to pay. As a public University, that expense trickles down to the Florida taxpayer, while Spencer’s National Policy Institute only had to pay $10,564 in order to rent the auditorium.
Other public universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, have been forced to pay out similar sums. Berkeley spent $800,000 on Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Free Speech Week” in September — despite the fact that the main event took about 15 minutes total. Berkeley also paid out some $600,000 to police for security during a speech by right-wing radio host Ben Shapiro. The school is currently facing a $110 million budget deficit.
The reason public universities are burdened with shouldering the costs for Spencer’s security comes from the 1992 Supreme Court case Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, known in First Amendment doctrine as the “heckler’s veto.” In that case, Justice Harry Blackmun ruled that free speech “cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”
Thankfully, despite the massive bill, the Spencer speech on Thursday passed in relative peace, with the exception of an incident later in the day for which three men were arrested by the Gainesville Police Department.
According to the GPD, the three men, who are white, allegedly began “threatening, offering Nazi salutes and chants about Hitler to the group that was near the bus stop.” One of the men then allegedly produced a handgun and fired a single shot. Two of the three men have ties to extremist groups. According to Mark Pitcavage of the ADL, the two specifically had ties to the Aryan Renaissance Society in Texas.
In a later statement, County Commission Chair Ken Cornell thanked law enforcement for their role in keeping any larger displays of violence at bay.
“The citizens of our community have demonstrated once again that, in Gainesville, love and unity will always triumph over hate and violence,” he said. “I am grateful to law enforcement, emergency responders, and to our entire community for working together to keep our city safe.”
In the same press release, Cornell also thanked 40 separate law enforcement agencies for helping, directly or indirectly, with security at the University of Florida.
The county commission chair did not mention the cost to taxpayers.