GAINESVILLE (CBSMiami) – White supremacist Richard Spencer came to the University of Florida and got exactly what he asked for: freedom of speech.
Roughly 70 percent of the crowd invited in to hear Spencer expressed their first amendment right at the same time he did – essentially drowning him out.
The audience yelled things such as: “Go home, Spencer, go home”, “Say it loud, say it clear, Nazis are not welcome here” and “Go home, Nazis, go home.”
Armed officers stood guard from the balcony overlooking the crowd.
At one point, the audience even starting yelling the Gators “orange and blue” chant and the “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye song” as if they were at a Florida football game.
Spencer tried for about an hour until he finally just left.
Outside the speech at the Phillips Performing Arts Center, several hundred protesters are lined up to denounce his appearance.
Estimates are the protesters were about 2,500. On the flip side, there were less than 100 white supremacists on site.
While there were intense moments, this was far short of what was anticipated.
Giovan Lucas, a UF student from Pembroke Pines, chose not to stay home.
“I think it’s crazy that they actually let him on campus,” the junior said. “But since he’s here we might as well stand up against what he has to say.”
Despite the threat of violence and tear gas, Jane Cornbled, who is Jewish, said she couldn’t just stay home.
“It’s a sin to my ancestors and to 6 million people who were murdered that people would want to bring back that philosophy into our world,” she said.
It was clear Spencer’s supporters were outnumbered 100 to 1.
William Fierce and handful of Spencer supporters looked on under the protection of intense law enforcement.
“They want to silence the message,” Fierce said.
There were shouting matches, but for the most part that was all.
“In general, I think the day went well. I think the students inside and out here made their points clear,” said UF graduate student Liz Ibarrola.
Spencer’s organization began handing out tickets just before 2 p.m. They picked through the crowd, deciding who got in.
Getting a ticket to the event wasn’t an issue, there were plenty to go around.
“It seemed almost random the way they were letting people in. They let some people of color in but not many,” one student said.
Spencer’s event at the Gainesville campus comes about two months after rallies by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, led to a deadly clash with counter-protesters.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, saying a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, where the school is located.
The school called in hundreds of law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and city sources. Streets are blocked off and movement around the campus is being tightly controlled.
Officers were on rooftops, prepared to fire gas canisters should protesters outside the Phillips Performing Arts Center get out of control.
In the end, not a single gas canister was fired, not a single law enforcement officer injured and just two arrests. A 34-year-old man who resisted arrest and an Orlando security guard who was working for a TV news network. He brought a loaded gun on campus, which is illegal in Florida.
Amid the heavy police presence, demonstrators taking part in a protest rally called for “No Nazis at UF” and chanted “stand up, fight back” and “go home, Spencer.” A couple hundred people lined up at about 1:30 p.m. when the ticket distribution began.
Signs saying “love not hate” and “#TogetherUF” were hung around campus. A local brewery offered free beer in exchange for tickets to the event in an effort to leave seats empty.
University of Florida President Kent Fuchs originally rejected Spencer’s plan to speak on campus last month.
The University changed its mind when Spencer threatened a lawsuit.
“We did know at that point we weren’t going to permanently ban him and so if we could find a time and a place when we could assure security, we knew we would allow him at that point,” said Fuchs.
On Thursday, Fuchs urged students not to attend the vent and denounced Spencer’s white nationalism.“I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message,” Fuchs said on Twitter.
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 https://t.co/eHFuUUchbh
— W. Kent Fuchs (@PresidentFuchs) October 19, 2017
By the time Spencer took the stage he didn’t stand a chance – the shouting was deafening.
But regardless of what he said at the event, many say Spencer has won a public relations stunt, elevating his platform on UF’s dime with plenty of media attention.
The university spent upwards of $600,000 on security for the speech.
Lonny Wilk with the Anti-Defamation League hopes it remains calm.
“One of the most important things is not to fan the flames so we have been encouraging students, community members, not to come here today.” Wilk says make no mistake about it, nothing good comes from today’s speech.
“This is a group that espouses anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, misogyny, there is a definite issue of hate and bigotry.”