The white nationalists never stood a chance in Gainesville today. It was estimated that protesters outnumbered the group by about 10 to 1, according to officers on the scene.
The crowd gathered outside the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Thursday, not to wait in line to get tickets to see prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, but to protest him being there to spread a rhetoric that many have called racist and xenophobic.
“No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA!” they chanted over and over while holding signs that were covered with crossed out swastikas, messages of hope and humor poking fun at hate groups.
“I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t come out to protest,” said Collin Stewart, a freshman at the University of Florida.
Stewart went on to explain that he had never been a part of a protest in his life, but when he heard that Spencer was speaking on his campus, he felt compelled to start.
“I wouldn’t say that it was my duty, but it was something that I felt was my moral responsibility to do”, Stewart said.
Many of the protestors had similar feelings.
“This is things you see in the news, not in your hometown,” said Gainesville resident Morgan Chardi. “The fact that it was local really motivated me to come out and make a stand.”
The protestors outside the Phillips Center slowly seemed to lose motivation to stay and started to trickle out of the designated protest area as the day went on.
The exhausted crowd gained a burst of energy almost instantly when a man with a shaved head and wearing a shirt with several swastikas walked out of the building.
“Fuck you, you piece of shit scumbag,” one woman screamed.
The crowd quickly swarmed him like feeding piranhas to yell in his face and continued to do so as he walked off the premises. After being punched in the face by a protestor, police officers took action and directed protestors away from the man, according to a witness. Blood was coming from his lip and dripping down his face.
This man was the first of many who needed a police escort from the venue. Any time a suspected white nationalist would leave the building, protestors would swarm the attendee. This lead to attendees leaving with hoods up, covering their faces and at least one man asking to be taken into protective custody by the police.
“He asked if he could be arrested,” said Jacob Tylec, an attending protestor. “He took the coward’s way out. The rest are probably still cowering inside because they are afraid to face the people that they spit hate towards.”
Others who slipped away into the crowd were much more bold. One woman who was seen with a group of suspected white nationalist was able to separate herself from the group being swarmed, long enough to give a Nazi salute. This gesture quickly lead to the crowd gathering around her.
Despite the confrontational approach that many protestors took, the day remained almost completely non-violent.
When demonstrators got up close to those they suspected to be white nationals, there was almost always a chant of “no violence” coming from those around them. There was a particular woman dressed in black, with a hat pulled low who seemed to be the only one yelling “kick their ass” while the other protestors where yelling “no violence.” The woman in black was then seen leaving with the woman who gave the Nazi solute.
As the night went on there was never that moment of chaos that many had anticipated, but tensions were high all day.