University of Florida

Daniel Nordby defends UF student body president facing impeachment

Embattled University of Florida Student Body President Michael Murphy has enlisted the aid of legal eagle Daniel Nordby, a Shutts & Bowen partner who served as general counsel to former Gov. Rick Scott, in his impeachment fight.

Murphy’s facing impeachment over his decision to bring Donald Trump Jr. and his gal pal Kimberly Guilfoyle to campus last month. The couple were paid $50,000, out of student fees, for the talk.

Student Body Senator Zachariah Chou expounded on the decision to impeach Murphy in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. You can read all about that – and watch Chou’s Instagram video – here.

Nordby, who’s also the chairman of the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, blamed the impeachment proceedings against his client on “students on college campuses across America who are intolerant of conservative views.”

Here’s Nordby’s full statement on the matter:

“Michael Murphy did not violate federal election law, state law, or any university policies. Rather, this situation is reflective of students on college campuses across America who are intolerant of conservative views. As stated by the University of Florida Spokesman and by the contract for the speaking engagement, the Donald Trump Jr. event was not a campaign event. The purpose of the event was to discuss and promote Donald Trump Jr.’s new number one New York Times best-selling book, and no campaign activity occurred at the event. Michael has also invited Senator Bernie Sanders to speak at UF, but he declined. Michael fights on campus to ensure all students’ viewpoints are reflected in campus programming, and will continue to fight for those students until the end of his term as Student Body President.”

UF student leader defends impeachment inquiry prompted by Trump Jr. speech

University of Florida student leaders are taking a lot of incoming over a move to impeach student body President Michael Murphy over his decision to bring Donald Trump Jr. to campus last month.

But , a senator in the Gator student government, penned an op-ed in The New York Times to defend the inquiry, which comes amid congressional impeachment  proceedings into President Donald Trump.

Chou, who admits in the piece that he ran against Murphy earlier this year and lost, wrote that the student president has become a “conservative martyr.”

“For many of his supporters, this is simply another story of campus leftists gone berserk and threatening free speech. In fact, it’s a much more complicated story, one that throws into question the use of public funds for partisan ends,” Chou wrote.

Murphy came under fire after emails disclosed by the university’s student newspaper showed the campaign of the president reached out to Murphy to bring the younger Trump and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Trump campaign adviser, to the school.

Student activity fees were used to pay $50,000 for the appearance. The impeachment resolution said Murphy “not only endangered students marginalized by the speaker’s white nationalist supporters, but also abused his power to advance a particular political party at the expense of the student he should represent.”

Murphy’s enlisted the aid of Tallahassee’s Daniel Nordby, a Shutts & Bowen partner who served as general counsel to former Gov. Rick Scott and is now the chairman of the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

Earlier this month, Florida GOP leaders issued a blast email to supporters in support of Murphy.

“If it was Chelsea Clinton, they’d be praising him. Enough is enough!” the party, which called Murphy’s impeachment “completely outrageous,” said.

But Chou provided some insight into the student government’s rationale:

Michael Murphy has posted photos of himself on social media at President Trump’s inauguration and with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the White House. He is the son of Dan Murphy, who works for the lobbying firm BGR Group. Dan Murphy maxed out donations to President Trump’s 2020 campaign, and is a known associate of Donald Trump Jr. The $50,000 that paid for the speaking fee came from mandatory student fees.

Chou noted that Scott, now a U.S. senator, called Murphy’s pending impeachment “shameful,” and also pointed out the RPOF website where supporters can add their name to support Murphy. On Nov. 14, Trump Jr. “tweeted colorful language about the Murphy impeachment inquiry and added, ‘Enough of this nonsense,’ ” Chou wrote.

The UF student newspaper, The Alligator, first reported on the emails linking the Trump campaign to the Trump Jr. speech.

“Many people saw these emails as the smoking gun, as proof that Mr. Murphy had colluded with the Trump campaign to funnel student fees toward a partisan cause.

The emails were the final straw for me and my colleagues in the Student Government Senate,” Chou wrote.

The story gathered steam, “bolstered” by the national impeachment proceedings, the student body senator added.

But, Chou argued, the impeachment isn’t based on partisan politics.

“This is about right and wrong,” he wrote.

Donald Trump Jr. made other book-tour stops where he wasn’t paid $50,000, Chou said.

Paying $50,000 for a speech that could have literally been a free speech is ethically questionable, especially seeing how Ms. Wren, a financial consultant for the Trump re-election campaign, was involved in setting up the speaking event — and that Michael Murphy’s lobbyist father has already maxed out his contributions to the campaign.

At the end of the day, had Donald Trump Jr. come to the University of Florida in the same way that he visited other universities, we would not had initiated impeachment proceedings against our student body president. It is the money questionably spent, conflicts of interest and shady Trump campaign collusion that are the sole ingredients in this recipe for impeachment.

Just as they are doing with the hearings in Washington, Republicans will try to pass this off as another day of partisan politics, but it’s not. This is about right and wrong, and just like our counterparts in Congress, we are taking a stand for ethical behavior in politics. We demand accountability.”

Here’s another excerpt from the op-ed:

“Conservative commentators have glanced in our direction and bemoaned the death of free speech on college campuses. The Florida Federation of College Republicans lamented that our student government has used “funds for years to promote liberal speakers.”

Reality doesn’t quite match up with the assertions of those who claim to be persecuted; as I’ve written previously, the vast majority of the political speakers that our student government has brought in and paid for in the last three years are conservative. On the conservative side, the former Ohio governor John Kasich came to campus in January; the former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and political commentator Ben Shapiro spoke in 2017. On the liberal side, we held events with Kal Penn, associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration, and the comedian Chelsea Handler in 2017.

For the record, we do not try to impeach our student body president after every conservative speaking event on campus. Since the University of Florida opened its doors in Gainesville in 1906, there has been only one other impeachment inquiry into a student body president; in 2009, Kevin Reilly was investigated over various concerns, including violations of the Florida Sunshine Law and conspiring to keep minority-party senators out of committee seats. He was ultimately not impeached and, interestingly enough, eventually went on to work in Governor Scott’s administration.

The Florida Republican Party seems to think that the impeachment inquiry is solely about inviting a member of the Trump family to campus, but that is not the case. My fellow senators and I have no qualms with free speech. This is an issue of conflicts of interest and fiscal responsibility, revolving around how $50,000 in mandatory student fees ended up going down the drain, in the direction of the swamp.”

 

It’s pythons vs. hogs, as Gators face off against Dawgs

Pigs and pythons are on the line as the Gators vs. Bulldogs clash Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville.

After much teasing throughout the week that a gubernatorial bet was in the works for the gridiron clash between the 6th ranked University of Florida and 8th ranked University of Georgia, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted out videos of what they were putting on the line.

A UF victory means the governors would head to the Everglades to help hunt Burmese pythons.

“We need the help. We’re making progress. But I’d love to see the Gators win and Gov. Kemp come down there. And who knows, you may end up with a pair of python boots on the end of it,” DeSantis said in his video.

A Georgia win, meanwhile, sends DeSantis into Southern Georgia, where feral pigs are infesting area farms.

“I know that wild hog sausage is a lot better than python,” Kemp said.

Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.

By NSF’s relentless Jim Turner.

Rick Scott: Sunshine State final three

Gov. Scott tweeted his NCAA basketball brackets on Thursday, leaning heavily upon home-state teams, with a final four comprised of Miami, Florida State University, University of Florida and Duke. Apparently unafraid of incurring the wrath of ‘Noles, Scott has UF over FSU in the championship game.

Durham, N.C.-based Duke is a second seed. Miami and UF are both six seeds in their regional brackets, while FSU in a ninth seed.

No Key Lime pies appear to have been wagered.

 — By Jim Turner.

Texas men shouting Nazi slogans arrested after shooting at car in Gainesville

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Tyler Tenbrink

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Colton Fears

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William Fears

Authorities in Florida breathed a sigh of relief after white nationalist Richard Spencer’s speech in Gainesville went off with just minor hiccups on Thursday.

The University of Florida avoided the types of confrontations on other campuses that prompted Gov. Rick Scott to issue a state of emergency in Alachua County earlier this month.

A $600,000 security effort resulted in “a mostly peaceful day” in Hogtown, according to a joint press release issued by various law enforcement agencies involved.

According to the press release, the speech resulted in “minimal acts of violence” and two arrests.

But those arrests didn’t include an ugly off-campus confrontation that wound up with three Texas men, two of them brothers, behind bars.

According to a Gainesville Police Department report issued this morning, the Texans — aged 28 to 30 — a violent argument, which took place shortly after Spencer’s speech ended, resulted in gunfire.

Tyler Tenbrink, 28, of Richmond, Texas; William Fears, 30, and his brother, 28-year-old Colton Fears, both of Passadena, Texas, are all currently in the Alachua County Jail on charges of attempted homicide. Tenbrink is a convicted felon and faces additional charges of possession of a firearm by convicted felon. The Fears brothers are being held on $1 million bond, and Tenbrink is on $3 million bond.

At least two of the three have shown connections to extremist groups, according to a press release issued by the GPD this morning.

Here’s what went down, according to the release:

Shortly before 5:30pm, it was reported that a silver Jeep stopped to argue with a group of protesters and began threatening, offering Nazi salutes and shouting chants about Hitler to the group that was near the bus stop. During the altercation, Tenbrink produced a handgun while the Fears brothers encouraged him to shoot at the victims. Tenbrink fired a single shot at the group which thankfully missed the group and struck a nearby building. The suspects then fled in a silver jeep.
One of the victims amazingly remained calm and was able to get the vehicle tag number and reported it immediately to law enforcement. Due to the Richard Spencer event, law enforcement resources from the local, state and Federal level were still operating in “Unified Command” which allowed local investigators and FBI analysts to quickly identify the vehicle and possible occupants. This information was immediately relayed to area law enforcement to look for the vehicle.

The Texans were nabbed later Thursday night on I-75 by an Alachua County deputy — with help from local police — on his way home from the Spencer event.

GPD spokesman Ben Tobias praised both the victim and the LEO handling of the situation.

“I am amazed that immediately after being shot at, a victim had the forethought to get the vehicle’s license number” Tobias said. “That key piece of information allowed officials from every level of multiple agencies to quickly identify and arrest these persons. This was an amazing team effort by everyone involved.”

Darnell said the incident and quick response “displays the true teamwork that went into yesterday’s Unified Command Center activation.”

“Information was quickly gathered and disseminated to all law enforcement partners involved and a potentially dangerous situation was averted quickly with the arrests,” she said.

UF Prez Fuchs: “Racist” Spencer “failed miserably”

20171019_161721(0)(1)Late last night, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs penned an op-ed for the school’s newspaper, The Alligator, declaring that white nationalist Richard Spencer “failed miserably to divide our community.”

Spencer was shouted down throughout his speech at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where those who disagreed with his identity politics vastly outnumbered his supporters.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Alachua County early in the week, and hundreds of law enforcement from around the state patrolled the campus yesterday. Security costs were estimated to be $600,000.

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Scott, Fuchs and county Sheriff Sadie Darnell were among those who feared a reprisal of violent clashes where Spencer has previously appeared, such as a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August. Spencer supporters carried tiki torches and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”Heather Heyer was killed and dozens were injured after a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors.

But the anxiety leading up to the Gainesville event might have been higher than the tension on Thursday. A man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Nazi swastikas was punched. Two other men were arrested for non-violent offenses.

Fuchs praised how the university dealt with what he called Spencer’s message of hate.

“The whole world was watching, and the whole world saw how we responded to a hateful and despicable bully,” the university president wrote.

He also discussed why the university couldn’t ban Spencer from speaking, as many students and faculty members urged, or charge him the full $600,000 tab for security. (Spoiler alert: It’s because of a legal doctrine known as the “heckler’s veto”).

Fuchs also advised students to abandon the old-school protest methods that seemed to work pretty well yesterday.

“I argue old strategies of protest, which include shutting down Spencer and chasing his followers out of town, are exactly what white supremacists need to attract attention and followers.  For Spencer and his ilk, I believe the right strategy is to 1) shun the speaker, his followers and his events, and 2) as loud as possible, speak up with acts of inclusion and love and messages rejecting racism and white nationalism,” he wrote.

Read Fuchs’s full piece here.

White nationalist: I’m not a poo-poo head!

20171019_090816Richard Spencer, the controversial white nationalist who’s sparked a state of emergency and turned Hogtown into a powderkeg, says he doesn’t promote violence and isn’t a white supremacist.

Spencer, who coined the term “alternative right” years ago, is coming to the University of Florida this afternoon as another stop on a national recruitment effort targeting college students.

The National Policy Institute, which Spencer founded and leads, paid about $10,000 to rent the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The university first balked at Spencer’s appearance, but relented after deciding it would probably lose a lawsuit threatened by Spencer’s lawyer.

The university estimates costs for Spencer’s speech will be in the $500,000 range, further angering students, faculty and others who want the alt-right sensation to stay the heck away.

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We spoke with Spencer’s chief lieutenant, Evan McLaren, this week.

“There’s nothing hateful about what Richard or myself or the National Policy Institute expresses,” McLaren said.

McLaren, the executive director of D.C.-based NPI, told us the first business purchase he made after going to work for Spencer this summer was a ballistics vest.

Read the full story here.

And here’s what Spencer had to say in a recent interview with the Culture Report.

Spencer denied that he’s a white supremacist, which he defined as “a white person who wants to rule over other races.”

“And I don’t want to do that,” so he’s not a white supremacist, Spencer said.

“White supremacist is basically a scare word. You might as well call me a poo-poo head or some other middle school-level insult. Because that’s all it is. It’s a way of suppressing speech. It’s a way of silencing someone even before the conversation begins, actually. So, yes, I get it a lot. It’s obvious bullshit. It’s the same thing as when a conservative would say, ‘he’s a communist,’ or ‘he’s a Marxist.’ Well, maybe that’s true in many cases. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to offer,” he explained.

So, what is he?

“If I were to describe my ideology, my identity, it would be identitarian…It basically means that that question of identity is at the very heart of how I think of the world,” he said.

Are whites superior?

“The easiest thing for me to say would be, oh no, of course not. But look, of course, I would say, for me, yes. Speaking from my perspective, yes, I want to live in a white country,” he said, adding that he feels more at home in European countries than Asian or Hispanic nations.

“Every people thinks of itself as a chosen people on some level. As unique and special. Obviously Jews have taken that to the next level with their sense of chosenness,” he added.

Whites aren’t superior “from an objective, scientific sense,” Spencer said. Africans are better at “running and sprinting” and East Asians have higher IQs, he said.

“The key issue is really not superiority. It’s difference. I don’t want to lose that coherence to the white race,” he concluded.

But the Anti-Defamation League doesn’t buy Spencer’s insistence that’s he’s not a hate-monger and he’s not inciting violence.

“The fact is that Richard Spencer and his cohorts are white supremacists and their ultimate goal is to have a white ethno-state, and that’s based on the idea that different races should live separately. They’re very much opposed to diversity,” Marilyn Mayo, a director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told us this week. “They promote both racist and anti-Semitic ideas. Their message definitely is not a message of unity, but it is a hateful message.”

20171019_090854Regarding the clashes that have erupted at some of his speeches, Mayo said that Spencer doesn’t promote violence.

“They don’t have a history of promoting violence, but it’s clear that the ideas that they’re promoting are based on hateful views,” she said.

Both Spencer’s supporters and counter-protestors have come to the events prepared to engage in battle, Mayo noted.

“I think that Spencer himself has not promoted violence. But he has also brought white supremacists to these events who are there to protect him, and those people have a tendency towards violence,” she said.

 

 

White nationalist speech at UF: Should I stay or should I go?

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and University of Florida President Kent Fuchs are urging students, faculty and others to shun firebrand white nationalist Richard Spencer, who’s speaking at the college tomorrow.

But Florida Democrats issued a press release this morning saying they support peaceful protestors and it’s incumbent on those who disagree with Spencer to speak out.

“The Florida Democratic Party reiterates its support for all peaceful protesters who are standing up and speaking out,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel said in the release. “We have a moral obligation to refute hate and bigotry whenever they present themselves. White supremacy is an evil we cannot ignore. When leaders like our governor fail to challenge the President for embracing white supremacists, it becomes all the more urgent that the rest of us speak out—clearly, unequivocally, and loudly. We must let it be known that we reject hatred in all its forms.”
Responding to a request by Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency for the county. The executive order allows for coordination between state and local law enforcement agencies. Darnell said her request wasn’t based on any heightened security risks, but was a preventative measure.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning, Bondi said she was praying “nothing happens” and urged students not to go to the event, while saying “there is no place for espousing these horrible, horrible views.”

Bondi said law enforcement will be well-prepared.

But, she added, “There is just no place right now for this, but you know with free speech, if he’s going to get up there and do it, then he’s going to do it. But we are going to make sure that our students and our citizens are protected.”

Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, was among the speakers at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors. Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured.
Clashes between Spencer supporters, some of whom are white supremacists and others who back his white separatist ideology, and “Antifa,” or anti-fascist, groups have taken place on other campuses where Spencer has spoken.

Alt-right speech in Hogtown: “It’s just words”

Tension continues to build in advance of alt-right activist Richard Spencer’s appearance at the University of Florida Thursday,.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning, Attorney General Pam Bondi said “there is no place for espousing these horrible, horrible views.”

Yesterday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Alachua County. County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she requested the emergency declaration so she could make sure she had the necessary resources, just in case.

Spencer was one of the key organizers of an August “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors. Heather Heyer, 31, was killed, and dozens were injured.

Appearances by Spencer in other college towns also sparked melees, causing concern by state and local officials who fear similar clashes in Hogtown.

Bondi defended Scott’s emergency declaration when asked if it might worsen an already tense situation.

“This guy’s out there espousing violence and hatred and anger and if we know that he’s going to be doing that, it’s our duty as a state … to have the resources available up front,” she said.

Spencer supporters point the finger at counter-protestors, who’ve pledged to show up en masse on Thursday, as the reason for the precautions.

Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who helped organize Spencer’s speech in Gainesville, posted a video on Twitter yesterday, with an update about how to get tickets for the event at UF’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The center was originally supposed to distribute the tickets for the 2:30 speech, Padgett said.

But organizers quashed that after learning that tickets could have been turned in for free drinks, or even money, Padgett said in the video.

“It almost seems to me that people don’t want to hear Richard Spencer speak. You know, they’re just words. We’re not even there yet, in Gainesville, at all and they’re already enacting a state of emergency based on protestors already there,” Padgett said. “What’s the state of emergency being enacted on? It’s the protestors that are there at the event, or at the venue right now. So we’re there to peacefully show up and speak, you know, words only, and if you want to debate and engage in a conversation, then I welcome everybody to be there. I think it will be a good event. I have full faith in the police to do whatever they need to do to make sure that the speech is delivered properly and safely.”

The latest on court fight over white nationalist speech (or lack of it) at UF

Representatives of Richard Spencer and the National Policy Institute are trying to work with the University of Florida to finalize a speech in less than two weeks, but the prospects are grim, according to First Amendment lawyer Gary Edinger.

Edinger represents Spencer, NPI and Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who’s involved in bringing Spencer, a leader in the “alt-right” movement, to the Gainesville campus.

The university rejected the request after a deadly outburst following a “Unite the Right” rally earlier this month in Charlottesville. One person died when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, and two Virginia state troopers also died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the situation.

Edinger said today he’s been in contact with the university in an attempt to avoid taking UF to court over Spencer’s speech.

In a letter to UF general counsel Amy Hass sent Thursday, Edinger asked if there was “any possibility of resolving this dispute short of Federal litigation.”

Edinger said his clients were willing to be flexible regarding the times and even possible date of the event.

But, he warned, “the university’s principal obligation in this regard is to ensure order so that the speech may go forward.”

In a telephone interview Thursday, Edinger remained skeptical that a lawsuit could be avoided.

“I have no idea if the university is actually interested in having this conversation. I’m interested in it. Although I litigate for living, it’s not a good way to solve problems,” the First Amendment lawyer said in a telephone interview.

Edinger acknowledged that “there are legitimate security concerns” about Spencer’s appearance, which was supposed to take place on Sept. 12.

But, he said, that doesn’t mean the university has the right to quash the speech.

“There are a range of possibilities here and what I’m trying to do is kind of the responsible thing and see if something can’t be worked out in advance and without litigation. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I’m giving it the old college try, if you’ll forgive the pun,” he said.

The likelihood of an amicable settlement seems to have dwindled, based on a memo distributed by University of Florida President Kent Fuchs yesterday:

“Dear Gator community:

Due to the threat of violence, the University of Florida denied two weeks ago a request by the National Policy Institute to rent space for a Sept. 12 event for white nationalist Richard Spencer.

We were informed late this afternoon that representatives of the organization have retained legal counsel and plan to pursue efforts to hold this event as originally requested.

No formal complaint has been filed at this time. We are prepared to vigorously defend our decision. The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority.

Our university police department has been working closely with local, state and federal agencies over the last few weeks and will continue to do so.

We understand some media organizations have been told there is a contract between the university and the National Policy Institute for the event. No contract was ever executed.

We are committed to keeping you updated as we receive new information. In addition, UF’s information line at 1-866-UF-FACTS (833-2287) may also be a resource.”

The violence in Charlottesville may have created security issues for UF, but his clients are not responsible for picking up the tab, Edinger said.

“The nature of speech is topical and we don’t have a long attention span in America. This is a topical thing right now so eyeballs are glued to television screens,” he said. My client is really the First Amendment. Politically and socially I have nothing in common with my clients but they have a right to speak.”