In advance of Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida, neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer advised its followers to target the Lubavitch Chabad Center on campus. Calling Spencer “our hero,” the site’s founder Andrew Anglin included a screenshot of the Chabad center’s location on Google Maps and suggestions of what to chant: “‘You/Jews will not replace us’ and ‘Shlomo go home’ are examples of SIMPLE and GOOD chants.”
Anglin’s invitation to his readers is part of a new tactic known as “flash demos,” in which the alt-right demonstrates off-site to avoid police and counter-protesters at the main event. The same approach was used at Spencer’s Charlottesville rally on October 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Although the Chabad Center has increased security for the day, the rest is “business as usual,” said director Rabbi Berl Goldman. “Thank God we’re resilient… [This is] part of their hate-filled agenda and tactics, and we are not afraid.”
Outside, the Lubavitch Chabad Student Group has continued their marathon of good deeds, creating a “wall of mitzvahs” at their table in the Plaza of Americas. Around 300 students have already stopped by to participate in random acts of kindness, Goldman said.
“Most people are hiding. But we’re out here, spreading love,” explained Fara Moskowitz, president of the Chabad Student Group. “I’m ignoring what [Spencer] is speaking and preaching about because it’s not right… I’m not going to let someone speaking hate stop me from getting the education I paid for.”
However, the atmosphere on campus is “very weird,” Moskowitz said. Only three of the usual 75 students attended her morning class, and her roommate, also Jewish, “came into my apartment crying because she actually passed by some of the Richard Spencer followers, and she felt so threatened, so afraid for her life.”
Because of these safety concerns, Moskowitz said she and her fellow Chabad members are “staying far away” from the performing arts center where Spencer is speaking. “We are not engaging, not going, not protesting, even if it is peaceful,” she said.
But back at the Plaza, students are “staying strong,” she said. “We want to bring light to this darkness. That is our goal today.”
“We look forward to them cancelling their event and stopping this bigotry,” added Rabbi Goldman. “It might be wishful thinking, but a little positive energy can go a long way.”
Emma Davis is a former editorial intern at Tablet and has written for NBC News, Today.com, and the Huffington Post Blog.