Unfortunately, in recent months, we have all become much more familiar with the group known as the the Alt-right. After torch-bearing white supremacists and neo-Nazis strutted through Charlottesville, the Alt-right movement has become an un inching presence not only in American politics, but also in American society. The unoffi cial leader of the movement, Richard Spencer, spoke at the University of Florida in Gainesville this past Thursday—and Florida was prepared.
Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in anticipation of Spencer’s arrival and the counter-protesting that was expected to follow. Critics have decried the move as “overkill” and claim that it inhibits freedom of speech. But what critics overlook is the precedent that history has set when it comes to Richard Spencer’s presence. In Charlottesville, Spencer and his followers showed us what they think “peaceful protesting” looks like – and it ends in injury.
Is declaring a state of emergency in response to Spencer’s scheduled appearance an infringement on the right to freedom of speech? No, this action does not infringe on Richard Spencer’s freedom of speech because he isn’t prohibiting Spencer from speaking. A state of emergency doesn’t stop an event from happening. It does, however, allow the state legislature to make resources immediately available in case something occurs. State-sponsored officials, such as police officers and troopers, are made accessible to calm any disturbances that might arise. In summation, what Rick Scott is doing is affirming that if violence occurs, the proper authorities will be present to address any disturbances.
The real problem arises when we view one person’s liberties as more important than another’s. Richard Spencer has the right to say what he wants; no one is disputing that. What is just as important–and far more understated–is the right of others to protest his talk without having to risk their safety.
Richard Spencer and the Alt-right continually use methods of intimidation to silence their opposition and shut down discourse. They often shift the conversation away from their scare tactics by screaming about the supposed infringement on their First Amendment rights. However, protesters on the opposing side lose their sense of security when they want to assemble peacefully.
Critics of Rick Scott’s decision have made the case that preparing for violence is promoting violence, but Richard Spencer has already made his plans clear. His social media presence contains threat after threat, affirming his vicious intentions. Recently, he tweeted: “BREAKING: Hurricane Ricardo expected to hit [Gainesville] this Thursday.” Accompanying the tweet was an even more absurd picture of his head in the center of a hurricane about to hit Florida. Asinine? Yes. But his tweet highlights the tendency of the Alt-Right to threaten brute force.
Rick Scott’s fears aren’t unwarranted or excessive. The backlash facing his decision to declare a state of emergency reveals a darker underlying problem in our communities. It’s not heavy-handed to ensure the safety of the public, especially in a way that still respects civil liberties. Preparing for a discourse in this way does not lessen its value; it actually increases its value by protecting the safety of everyone who wants to participate.
With local law enforcement present, protestors of the Alt- Right can assemble without worrying that the situation could immediately escalate. The state of emergency allows resources to be instantly available in order to protect everyone involved from physical harm. It will ensure that everyone who wants to contribute to the conversation can and that will allow for a richer dialogue.