Man Sports Swastika on University of Florida Campus, Is Promptly Jumped, Beaten Up and Robbed of His Clothes
Students protested against a man wearing a swastika at the University of Florida on Thursday, the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Later that afternoon, in the city of Gainesville, the man was jumped, roughed up and robbed of his clothes.
The man, who was identified as Michael Dewitz, was first spotted on the university campus earlier that morning wearing a swastika armband. Students held a protest for several hours, chanting anti-Nazi slogans at Turlington Plaza, the school's designated free speech zone, where Dewitz was making his presence known.
The Fine Print, a local independent magazine run by volunteers, livestreamed more than an hour of footage from the demonstration. A spokesperson for the Fine Print told AlterNet that Dewitz had been seen around Gainesville throughout the week wearing the Nazi symbol.
In the publication's camera footage, Dewitz appears to make a veiled threat, asking around 59 minutes into the video, "Are you willing to risk your lives?" His comments were otherwise cryptic and he avoided answering questions.
"To our knowledge, there isn't a far-right presence here in Gainesville," the Fine Print said. But it noted that "Gainesville is one of the only liberal areas in north central Florida." And the right wing is on the rise.
Samual Khalil, a freshman at the University of Florida, also shared video of the protest.
AlterNet spoke with Khalil about the incident. He recalled that Dewitz was "walking around basically just trying to get people to notice him."
"Eventually people started to take notice and began to gather around to watch as [others] were arguing with him," Khalil added. "He was trying to make a big scene."
AlterNet asked if there has been an increasing white-supremacist presence in the Gainesville community.
"I don't think there is a large following of sympathizers and even if he has any, they will most likely stay silent because of the huge negative response in the community against what he stands for," Khalil said.
Right now, they feel safe from extreme racist threats. But "the community is very concerned," he added. "And how to handle the situation has been [a] favorite topic of debate."
The University of Florida administration defended Dewitz's right to speak on campus, saying he was protected by freedom of speech. However, others are concerned that giving a platform to white supremacists only allows them to further disseminate their genocidal ideology, which is not rational and not defeated through discussion.
Later in the day, local media reported that Dewitz was jumped by two men. They pulled up in a pickup truck, hit him and took his jacket and armband.
The attack took place just short of a week after neo-fascist leader Richard Spencer was punched at protests at the inauguration of President Donald Trump on January 20, in Washington, D.C. The attack on Spencer quickly turned into a popular internet meme. Remixes of the video, accompanied by various songs, have since flooded social media.
Spencer, who coined the term "alternative right" as a euphemism for the fascist, white-supremacist movement, is one of Trump's staunchest supporters. Video footage of Spencer speaking at a white supremacist conference, captured by The Atlantic, shows him shouting "Heil Trump! Hail our people! Heil victory!" — a reference to the Nazi slogan "Sieg Heil."
Actor Shia LaBeouf was also arrested this week after getting in an altercation with a neo-Nazi supporter of Trump. White supremacists have harassed and trolled LaBeouf during his anti-Trump protest performance art piece, "He Will Not Divide Us," which has been livestreamed in New York City. Neo-fascist demonstrators can be seen abusing the video camera, one declaring "Hitler did nothing wrong." The actor shouted down a white supremacist in another video that went viral.
The election of Donald Trump, who ran an explicitly racist, anti-Muslim, sexist, and jingoist campaign, has drawn increasing attention to the rise of neo-fascist movements in the U.S., Europe and around the world.