Gainesville calls for peace ahead of white nationalist speech

Campus and local police could be seen on almost every block Tuesday. State Troopers walked in mass down the sidewalks outside of the University of Florida’s volleyball courts and barricades surrounded the grounds of the Phillips Center, where a famed white nationalist will speak in just 2 days.

Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak to his followers at the University on Thursday. School leaders said his organization has about 700 tickets to the event that they can distribute, but it’s unknown how many people will show up outside to protest both against and in favor of his appearance.

One group alone expects their crowd to number close to 3000.

The student lead group calling themselves “No Nazis at UF” has close to that many marchers pledging on social media to attend Thursday. On Tuesday night the group held a “teach in” on campus to learn more about Spencer’s group and reasons for which they will protest his appearance at their school.

"People need to really understand what it is we're fighting against. It's not just people saying words, it's people actively fighting for a white ethnicity,” said group leader Chad Chavira.

Chavira said the event was also to discuss protesting peacefully and keeping everyone safe at the likely heated event outside of the auditorium Thursday. That part has a lot of people in town concerned.

Many community leaders have taken to social media in recent days urging residents to keep the peace and, if possible, find ways to make their voices heard without participating in the on-site protests Thursday.

One community organization, Welcoming Gainesville and Alachua County, created yard signs and distributed them to residents on Tuesday. The signs carrying messages of inclusion and tolerance in the community.

Across campus many others have embraced the rallying cry of “Together UF” to show the campus is united against hate and exclusion.

However, many expressed concern about the protesters and counter protesters who will likely come into the community from elsewhere; concern their intentions may be less than peaceful.

The Alachua County Sheriff said Monday that the sheer size of the crowds on Thursday is the biggest unknown. She said they are preparing for anything and hoping that in the end those preparations all end up being a training exercise.