On Thursday afternoon, white supremacist leader Richard Spencer gave a speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville and was met with protests. The event took place just three months after he and others participated in the violent "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.
Amidst heavy police presence, anti-Spencer protesters clashed with supporters, who carried signs denouncing neo-nazism, white supremacy, and fascism. But one man decided to take a different route – a route of love.
According to The New York Daily News, Aaron Courtney, a 31-year-old high school football coach in Gainesville, saw that a Nazi (Randy Furniss) was being surrounded by protesters who screamed, punched, and spat on him.
Courtney wasn't familiar with Spencer prior to this event, and he got alerted to him when Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency. After doing some research on Spencer, he wanted to come out and protest, spending nearly four hours at the university yesterday. Just when he was getting ready to leave, he noticed Furniss.
"I could have hit him, I could have hurt him ... but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love," Courtney says.
A video went viral of Courtney hugging Furniss and wrapping his arms around him. In the clip above, you can hear him asking Furniss: "Why don’t you like me, dog?" Courtney continued to press him with questions because he was genuinely curious as to why someone hated him solely because of his skin color.
"I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?’" he says.
When Furniss refused to answer him, he kept trying. "After beating around the bush, and avoiding my questions, I asked him, I pleaded with him, I almost broke out in tears, growing increasingly angry because I didn’t understand," he says.
He continued to seek the truth, taking the teachings of his father, who is a bishop, and applying it to this situation. "Something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love. Maybe he never met an African-American like this."
So, he asked the Nazi to give him a hug. After some initial resistance, Furniss finally gave in. "I reached over and the third time, he wrapped his arms around me, and I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life.’"
Courtney then asked him again, "Why do you hate me?"
Furniss’ response, according to Courtney was "I don’t know.’"
"I believe that was his sincere answer. He really doesn’t know," he adds.
Furniss was eventually taken away by police, but he ended up taking a photo with Courtney’s friend.
"I honestly feel that was a step in the right direction, for him to take a picture with a guy that he hated when he woke up this morning," he says.
What a noble thing to do, Courtney. Hopefully this will make an impact on a larger scale.