A surprisingly touching moment unfolded outside of Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida on Thursday when a black man embraced an apparent white supremacist.
Aaron Courtney, a 31-year-old high school football coach, found himself hurt and dismayed when he learned about Spencer’s speech, so he showed up to protest and interacted with a white supremacist in the crowd, the New York Daily News reported.
But rather than clash with the guy, whom media identified as Randy Furniss, Courtney opted to do something else entirely: engage and then embrace Furniss.
“I could have hit him, I could have hurt him… but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love,’” he said.
So, Courtney decided to approach Furniss and start asking some passionate questions.
“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 said, explaining that Furniss didn’t answer and just stared off.
Courtney continued, “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.”
While the situation could have quickly devolved, Courtney decided to hug Furniss–and the moment is now going viral. At one point Furniss reportedly admitted that he doesn’t know why he hates Courtney.
“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 said.
Furniss also reportedly took a photo with one of Courtney’s friends, something Courtney saw as a victory.
“I honestly feel that was a step in the right direction,” he told the Daily News. “For him to take a picture with a guy that he hated when he woke up this morning.”
Furniss reportedly told WJXT-TV on Thursday that he is a white nationalist and explained some of his worldviews.
“They want what we have. And we just want them to shut up and get on with life,” he said. “They’re being raised up and it’s getting to the point where they want to push us down. That’s not right.”