Dear Gainesville Florida,
By this point, we have spent more time apart than we have together. However, you are the town in which I was born, and a wave of comfort always comes over me, the moment I cross into Alachua County. It is a sense of tranquil ease that reminds me, no matter how long I am away from you, Gainesville, you will forever be my home.
Recently, you gave me yet another reminder of why a piece of my heart will always reside somewhere along 13th Street and University Ave.
This past week you were visited by an evil man Gainesville. The type of man that represents immorality, and truthfully is far more dangerous than the blatant outcast of characters who follow him.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was making you believe he doesn’t exist, and that is was makes this man so treacherous. Of course, this man, in reality, is not the demented leader of the underworld or prince of darkness incarnate. Instead, he is indeed a human being, with inherent imperfections, something you exploited to your advantage Gainesville. Something you used against him, to ultimately send this snake slithering away in defeat.
Of course, this particular snake’s name is Richard B. Spencer.
Unlike the motley crew of racist, neo-Nazis, and bigots that make up his merry band of followers, good old Richard Spencer hides his hate behind dapper suits and a perfectly parted haircut. He does his best to conceal his visceral beliefs with charm and a particularly articulate manner of speech.
However, behind the façade, just like the informal diminutive for his first name, there exists a Dick.
See there is no passive form of racism. The same views shared and endorsed by Richard Spencer, are the same ones that inspired Dylann Roof to murder nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. Or in the last big event, Spencer enjoyed in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a man intentionally plowed into a crowd and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
In reality, this particular Dick Spencer’s goal is to try to spread the same strain of racist and hateful herpes, that he himself has been infected with. He can try to cover it up with his GQ appearance all he wants, however, what he is selling always blisters to the surface and will eventually erupt.
That is what makes Spencer’s racist hateful herpes so dangerous, is that his outwardly benign demeanor can be highly contagious and easily spread by those who fail to use protection of having an educated or enlightened view of life.
Yet, last Thursday, Gainesville, you made me proud. You came together and formed a protective barrier, greatly reducing Spencer’s ability to spread or inflame his infectious herpes of racist hate.
The best part? Richard Spencer has no one to blame but himself…
On Thursday, inside the Phillips Center on the campus of the University of Florida, Spencer tried his hardest to share his ignorant message of racial superiority and support of “ethno-states” in America. However, almost immediately things devolved into a shouting match between him and the considerable swaths of protesters inside the school's auditorium.
Ultimately, when Spencer asked the crowd how many of them supported his views, only 30 people raised their hands. The bulk of those 30 individuals represented those who had come with Spencer and were already a part of his organization, The National Policy Institute.
The venue had seating for 2,000…
Assuredly, Spencer can whine and cry about his free speech being violated all he wants to. However, the tickets to the event were held and distributed by Spencer’s own National Policy Institute. Therefore the hecklers that drowned him out and eagerly ran him off the stage, were invited guests and not party crashers.
The First Amendment right to free speech means that the government must respect free speech. The University of Florida, and the various law enforcement agencies on hand did exactly that. They protected Spencer’s safety and preserved law and order inside and outside the venue. However, Spencer wasn’t invited by the university to speak, rather his group rented the lecture hall on campus and therefore he was on his own to host an event he sponsored.
Had Spencer asked the protesters to leave and had a big enough security crew to effect that request, then the hecklers could have been ejected. However, the government, in this case, the university and the police, have no duty to help a private organization run its event. Spencer’s speech doesn’t even relate to academic freedom, as his speech was not a scholarly event that was sponsored by the university.
Had the University of Florida been a private school or another privately owned venue, they could have been well within their rights to deny Spencer’s request. However, as a public state school, and therefore an extension of the Florida state government, the school fulfilled their obligation to the First Amendment by allowing Spencer to book the venue and speak. Beyond that, it is all on the Spencer to ensure his bigot party is all the rage of racist-town USA.
Now, assuredly Gainesville there will be those who whine and cry about free speech being suppressed, or academic freedoms being stifled. However, racist Richard is the one who held the party in a rented hall, and then it was his invited guess that ultimately brought down his event. It was Richard Spencer’s party and he can cry if he wants to.
However, Richard Spencer has no one to blame but himself.
At the end of the day, Spencer has the freedom of speech to spew hateful rhetoric. However, the people of Gainesville equally have the freedom to tell him to go home. If there are more people and the voices are louder for those supporting equality and not hate… well, that is what we call a win for love by the rule of an ad hoc democratic vote.
Now, Spencer can blame you Gainesville. However, I offer you nothing but love and thanks.
Now, the events outside the venue were not without some fanfare. However, dramatically different from the similar racist event hosted in Charlottesville, Virginia, no one was hurt and there was no loss of life.
Instead, we were left with images and stories that had me beaming with pride for my hometown. Such as the incident on Thursday where lone neo-Nazi, Randy Furniss of Idaho found himself surrounded by protestors on UF’s campus.
As the protestors encircled Furniss and chanted “Go Home, Nazi Scum!” tempers that are easily flared by the mob mentality came to a head when someone punched Furniss in the face.
With blood dripping from his chin, Furniss in his T-shirt emblazoned with swastikas continued to march on, in light of increasingly agitated crowd. Suddenly, a large framed Black man stood directly in Furniss’ path. Stoically, the two men stood, squaring off face-to-face with each other.
Suddenly, that was when something truly remarkable took place.
The Black gentleman who blocked Furniss’ path was Aaron Courtney, a 31-year-old Gainesville High school football coach. In that moment he found himself face-to-face with the neo-Nazi Furniss, Courtney would later tell the New York Dailey News, “I could have hit him, I could have hurt him . . . but something in me said, 'You know what? He just needs love,' "
Courtney wrapped one arm around his shoulders and the other arm around the Nazi’s shaved head giving him a hug and said, “Why don’t you like me, dog?”
Initially, the Nazi who had traveled 2,500 miles to see Richard Spencer be booed off the stage, just silently stared as Courtney questioned him further, “Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?”
Exasperated, Courtney asked Furniss for a hug and finally, after three repeated request, Furniss reciprocated, and wrapped his arms around Courtney, giving him a hug.
Then one last time, Courtney asked Furniss, “Why do you hate me?” This time the Nazi Furniss answered, and said, “I don’t know.”
Ultimately, Gainesville, the only real remarkable concern from racist Richard’s visit to your beautiful area was when three white supremacists from Texas shot at some protestors after a verbal dispute. Luckily, no one was hit by the gunfire, and all three individuals were quickly arrested and currently are in jail while they wait for their fate to be determined by the criminal justice system.
At the end of the day, my oldest friend Gainesville, the town in which I born, place in which I call home… you made me proud and love you even more than I already did before.
Last Thursday, hateful racist Richard Spencer came to Gainesville in hopes of spreading his messages of nationalist racial hate. Instead of spreading anything, thanks to you Gainesville, it looks like this particular Dick may have shrunk.
You reminded the country that indeed free speech means free speech. We actually do get to democratically decide what we want to represent as a nation and what free speech will be America’s voice. Additionally, Gainesville, you demonstrated for us all, that the most potent weapon against hate is love. Aaron Courtney put it best when he said sometimes, “One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple.”
So Richard Spencer came to Gainesville with a merry band of about 30 fellow white supremacists. Ultimately, he would leave minus three, who liked Gainesville so much, they decided to find a room at the Alachua County Jail and stay awhile. Then one more, who after someone gave him a hug and asked him why he chose hate, he just might be reconsidering his view on life.
Oh, dearest Gainesville… for all of these reasons and much more, you will always be home to me.