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Florida college town on lockdown ahead of white supremacist speech

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
White supremacist proponent, Richard Spencer at a press conference at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida.

A college town in the US state of Florida has been put on lockdown ahead of a speech by an organizer of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly in August.

Hundreds of police officers were deployed at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Thursday to guard against possible unrest over Richard Spencer's speech, which is expected to draw thousands.

The streets surrounding the University of Florida were blocked off to traffic on Thursday, and classes have been canceled.

State officials are so fearful of disturbances that Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday ahead of Spencer's speech.

Protesters opposed to Spencer's arrival have unfurled signs on several campus building that read "Love, not hate."

Police stand guard at the site of a planned speech at the University of Florida by white supremacist Richard Spencer in the town of Gainesville in northern Florida. (Photo by AFP)

Spencer has gained notoriety as a leader of the "alt-right" movement, a loose collection of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups that took part in the violent Charlottesville protest in August.

A 32-year-old woman was killed when a white supremacist plowed his car into counter-protesters, and two police officers died in a helicopter crash as they were responding to the violence.

The rally sparked a national debate on race, and US President Donald Trump caused a nationwide firestorm for blaming both sides for the violence.

"It's very tense and upsetting," Wes Li, a 20-year-old philosophy student at the University of Florida, said. "A lot of people just aren't going to be around campus because they're a little worried and a lot of people are going to join the counter protesting."

University President Kent Fuchs urged students not to attend the event and denounced Spencer's white nationalism.

"I stand with those who reject and condemn Spencer’s vile and despicable message," Fuchs said on Twitter.

Uninvited guest-speaker

The University of Florida said it did not invite Spencer, who heads the National Policy Institute -- a nationalist think tank -- to speak, but was legally obliged to allow the event.

It said it will spend more than $500,000 on security. The National Policy Institute is paying more than $10,000 to rent the facility and for security within the venue, according to the university.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors US hate groups, said Spencer is "a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America."

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