Christie: No surprise Spencer speech at UF raising safety concerns

White Nationalist leader Richard Spence speaks at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday ahead of Spencer’s planned speech at the University of Florida. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

I hate to say we told you so… but we told you so.

Back in August, the Post Editorial Board sided with University of Florida President Kent Fuchs when he denied a request by white supremacist leader Richard Spencer to use a university facility for a speech.

RELATED: Editorial: UF made the right call denying ‘alt-right’ leader’s rally

It was a tough call given the editorial board’s strong stance in support of free speech. But at that time, the safety and security of UF’s student population outweighed the heavy principles ensconced in the First Amendment.

We were just coming off the terrible tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., where a 34-year-old woman was mowed down and killed by a neo-Nazi sympathizer as she counter-protested against Spencer and his cohort on the University of Virginia campus.

In this Aug. 12 photo, DeAndre Harris, bottom is assaulted in a parking garage beside the Charlottesville police station after a white nationalist rally was disbursed by police, in Charlottesville, Va. Harris turned himself into police after being charged in the incident. Charlottesville police said in a statement that Harris turned himself on Oct. 12, and was served a warrant charging him with unlawful wounding. (Zach D. Roberts via AP)

And in Charlottesville, Spencer’s group was chanting things like, “The South will rise again” and “Russia is our friend.”

It was just too soon.

We welcomed a lawsuit that was eventually filed by Spencer’s group to hold the rally. After consulting with them, UF acquiesced — as expected, and as it should. Surely, enough time had passed that the tensions wrought by Charlottesville would have calmed down. The rally was on.

But on Monday came news that Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Alachua County ahead of Thursday’s planned event at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Scott declared the state of emergency in UF’s home county, noting that Spencer’s speeches in other states have in the past “sparked protests and counter-protests resulting in episodes of violence, civil unrest and multiple arrests.”

RELATED: State of emergency declared ahead of UF white nationalist speech

“I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent,” Scott said in a seven-page executive order.

Although Scott, in a statement, said he supports everyone’s right to voice their opinions, “we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority.”

Hmmm… sound familiar?

“I have been in constant contact with Sheriff [Sadie] Darnell who has requested this Executive Order to ensure that county and local law enforcement have every needed resource,” Scott said in the statement, adding that the order is an additional step to ensure that “the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”

Gainesville, Fla. — University of Florida officials are planning to spend at least $500,000 for heightened security for a Thursday speech by white nationalist leader Richard Spencer. (DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun)

Indeed, UF is expecting to spend upwards of $500,000 for beefed-up security for the event. The university said it will charge “allowable” costs of $10,564 to the Spencer-led National Policy Institute to rent the Phillips Center and for security inside the venue.

And as a sign of the sensitivity of the issue, the university set up a webpage providing detailed information about the event — and saying the school’s decision was based on First Amendment grounds.

“As a state entity, UF must allow the free expression of speech,” the university webpage said. “We cannot prohibit groups or individuals from speaking in our public forums except for limited exceptions, which include safety and security. Our decision to disallow the September event was based on specific threats and a date that fell soon after the Charlottesville event. Allowing Spencer to speak in October provided additional time to make significant security arrangements.”

“We understand that this event and possible protest provokes fear, especially for members of our Gator family who are targets of messages of hate and violence simply because of their skin color, religion, culture, sexual orientation or beliefs,” the webpage said. “Faculty have been asked to be understanding with students on a case-by-case basis. However, faculty should not cancel classes without consulting with their dean.”

The university also indicated it is preparing for protesters.

“Protesters are expected to assemble near the Phillips Center, but we will have security across campus and in the community,” the webpage said. “Law enforcement will closely monitor groups marching into other areas of campus. The safety of our campus and community is our top priority.”

Yep… told ya.