Gov. Rick Scott this week declared a state of emergency in Florida ahead of a planned speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida. The governor’s decision could do more harm than good, setting the stage for violence from all sides and potentially threatening free speech.
Spencer is slated to arrive in Gainesville Thursday for the speech and is likely to bring with him a crowd of alt-right supporters along with so-called anti-fascist protesters determined to shut down the event.
Following the tragic events at an event Spencer helped to organize in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this year, Scott says that the potential for violent conflicts between opposing factions is too high for Florida officials to ignore.
“I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent,” Scott said in his executive order.
The order Scott signed will make it easier for the state Government to reimburse the university for security expenses, in addition to removing barriers to cooperation between state enforcement agencies attempting to resolve any conflicts that arise. It also give law enforcement the ability to shut down any event officials deem is out of hand and impose curfews.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell told the Tampa Bay Times that officials are hoping for a peaceful event but preparing for the worst.
“We don’t know what to expect, and we don’t know what kind of crowd numbers to expect,” Darnell said. “We all want this to be a non-event. We all want it to go very peacefully. But there is the potential for violence and for widespread property damage.”
But announcing the arrival of Spencer and his supporters with the same level of concern government officials would usually reserve for a natural disaster doesn’t exactly help in setting a “non-event” atmosphere. The governor’s actions are more likely to embolden extreme factions on both sides.
“It’s flattering, I guess. I am in the same genre as hurricanes and invading armies,” Spencer told the Tampa Bay Times, adding that he viewed the declaration as a “pretext to stifle free speech.”
So, Spencer, a fringe bomb-thrower, is tickled. Headlines screaming things like “Governor declares state of emergency ahead of white nationalist march” have now undoubtedly graced news outlets throughout Florida and the nation. And Antifa comrade worth his bandanna is dying for the chance to show up and punch a Nazi.
There may have been scuffles and arrests without Scott’s declaration– but the government has now unintentionally legitimized the most misguided protesters on both sides in a major way. At this point, violence is pretty likely to become a self-fulfilling government prophecy.
And with more of these fringe events planned all over the nation in the months ahead, by leaders of both alt-right and alt-left groups, there will be more government pre-interventions. And before long, because legislators have a nasty habit of creating laws aimed at the most unreasonable among us, Americans are going to hear serious conversations about the need to place new limits on peaceable assembly. You know, because there’s no way of knowing when an assembly of citizens might get out of hand.
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