Law enforcement officers have flooded into Gainesville from across the state in anticipation of a Thursday afternoon speech by one of the more controversial men in the nation.
Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who organized the “Unite the Right” rally at the University of Virginia that sparked deadly violence, will speak at the University of Florida at 2:30 p.m.
The city is bracing for potential clashes and protests.
In downtown Gainesville, a weapons ban is in place until Friday. Law enforcement will seize bats, knives, weapons and shields.
Troopers and other law enforcement across the state are visible around the city and school campus.
Barricades are strategically in place around the facility where Spencer will speak. Road closures are also planned.
Students at the university are handling the tension differently.
“Seeing all the state troopers and national guard here, it’s pretty terrifying,” said freshman and West Palm Beach native Bailey Triggs.
Students can’t miss the clusters of law enforcement officers around and on the campus.
“We’re students. We shouldn’t have to be worried about our lives,” Triggs said. “They shouldn’t even allow him to speak.”
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe says he would have also liked Spencer to have been blocked from speaking. By law, the University of Florida could not keep him from coming, but made very clear he was not invited by the school.
“These are the kind of things as a mayor that you would prefer not to have to deal with,” Poe said.
He’s spent months getting the city ready, holding daily meetings for the last month.
“What you’re going to see around town is a lot of security starting to prepare and get in place,” Poe explained.
Gov. Rick Scott also issued a state of emergency to quickly mobilize resources to the area.
Poe says city and campus leaders, along with law enforcement, were able to learn from the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., to prepare for Thursday.
Freshman Alison Wynne applauds the security efforts.
“There’s a lot of extra cops that are coming on campus and then they’re checking our IDs to make sure we are students.”
Still, students are taking their own measures to be safe.
“I’m going to be staying in my dorm,” said Wynne.
“I’m doing my best to keep my head down and stay safe,” Triggs said.
Student organization #togetherUF has also organized an online assembly to take place at the same time as Spencer's speech. The idea is to divert the attention from his event to something students consider more positive and productive.
"The virtual assembly is so we an protest through social media rather than one to campus because we don't know the dangers that we're going to face," said committee member and student, Bijal Desai.
Some students have asked the school to consider cancelling classes Thursday, but classes are still scheduled. Teachers can use their own discretion to grant exceptions to students in fear for their safety.
More information about the virtual assembly can be found here