In a stunning political move Monday, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared an official state of emergency for a Richard Spencer speech at the University of Florida scheduled for Thursday. Spencer was one of the white nationalist leaders of the riots in Charlottesville, VA, which caused a national stir and the death of one woman.
“We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority,” Scott declared in a statement Monday. “This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”
In the order, Scott pointed out that Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell requested the full resources of the state. He may also be able to deploy the National Guard if things get too out of hand. Even so, a state of emergency would be unnecessary to protect the safety of students in Gainesville. PJ Media’s Jack Dunphy explained why, and what the police should have done in Charlottesville to minimize the violence.
Dunphy, the pseudonym of a police officer in southern California, recalled an anti-Vietnam War rally at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, Calif., in the 1970s.
At this rally, there was a “modest police presence … a hundred or so LAPD officers standing here and there, some number of them military veterans, no doubt, appearing contemptuous of the marchers but doing nothing to interfere.”
“A contingent from the American Nazi Party, perhaps 50 of them, began to assemble,” Dunphy noted. “They formed into something resembling a military formation in the very center of Wilshire Boulevard, this in apparent preparation for entering the park, there surely to cause trouble among the anti-war protesters.”
So why isn’t this Los Angeles riot remembered like the events of Charlottesville? Because the police acted forcefully, and without an official state of emergency.
“Roaring down Park View came a phalanx of unmarked LAPD cars — late-60s Plymouth Belvederes, to be precise — which came to a stop and disgorged what looked to be about 50 of the department’s most serious-minded cops, all of them wearing helmets and carrying batons in port arms. In a matter of seconds those cops assembled in two ranks between the Nazis and the park, sending the unmistakable message that for the Nazis the only avenue into the park would be through them.”
This strategy worked perfectly. “After an awkward standoff of a few minutes, the Nazis began marking east on Wilshire, with the cops marching right alongside,” Dunphy noted. “This was repeated a few times, with the effect being that of a rehearsal for some sort of bizarre parade. Through all of it the leader of the Nazis was shouting through a bullhorn, and the entire rabble was free to carry on as they wished, but they weren’t going to be allowed into the park and stir things up.”
It wasn’t just the 1970s, either. At the Republican National Convention last year, the police showed up in force to protect both the event and the protesters. Time and again, they formed a line to prevent potential violence. They funneled the crowd from the speakers and attendees, and they were ready for any sort of violence.
— Tyler O'Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) July 19, 2016
Governor John Kasich also did not declare a state of emergency in Cleveland, Ohio, for that convention.
Dunphy wondered “if things might have turned out differently had the police in Charlottesville been similarly assertive in stemming the violence they surely knew was coming,” just as police in Los Angeles and Cleveland did so well.
This seems like a political move for Scott, a Republican governor who firmly supported Donald Trump, to distance himself from white nationalists like Richard Spencer. Such distancing is arguably unnecessary, but with the Leftist press finding white supremacists under every rock — or in the very names of elementary schools — it may be a canny move.
This declaration might also have the effect of chilling free speech. Leftist speakers, and leaders of Black Lives Matter in particular, would pitch a fit if a state of emergency was declared for them.
Make no mistake, Richard Spencer and his white nationalist comrades are no conservatives. They may hail President Trump, but their disgusting brand of identity politics is leftist and a full rejection of the Western heritage of freedom at the heart of America.
Even so, there is a double standard here. Black Lives Matter rallies have broken into violence just as Charlottesville did — and that is no condemnation of the movement itself. But it would be considered racist for any governor to declare a state of emergency just because a Black Lives Matter speaker was scheduled to address a university campus.
White nationalists like Richard Spencer are indefensible and vile, but they have the right to free speech, as the ACLU noted to its credit. With true conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro being effectively blacklisted from campuses in the name of safety concerns, it is rational to ask whether Scott’s state of emergency will not send a similar message.
Shapiro powerfully denounced the identity politics driving the Left’s assault on free speech this past summer, and this ideology helps explain why some speakers are effectively blacklisted. Anyone who disagrees with the narrative that various kinds of minorities are oppressed and need political power to reverse that oppression is denounced as bigoted, evil, even “white supremacist.” Their speech is considered violence, even when they are fundamentally different from real white nationalists.
This speech-is-violence mantra has already led to Internet blacklisting, with powerful tech companies targeting conservative websites that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) considers “hateful.” The stakes of this debate are very high indeed, and the governor of Florida is on the wrong side.
Rick Scott is treating Richard Spencer’s speech like violence, and that plays into this destructive narrative. The difference between Spencer and true conservatives like Ben Shapiro is night and day, but Leftists do not see it that way, and if they can convince the society that speech is violence in the case of Richard Spencer, they will continue to make the case that speech is violence whenever anyone disagrees with their agenda.
By all means, have a strong police presence at the Richard Spencer event this coming Thursday — it is likely to rile both sides into a furor. But this state of emergency reeks of political opportunism, and may help cement the Leftist narrative that any speech disagreeing with their worldview is really violence.
Even so, should Antifa become violent on Thursday and the National Guard become necessary, Scott’s declaration may prove prophetic. In any case, it is a sad reflection on America’s current discourse that this declaration may prove necessary.