The “Unite the Right” rally at the University of Virginia last week was only the beginning…
As far-right groups find fertile ground for recruiting on campus, campuses are bracing for a flood of speaking events and demonstrations organized by white nationalist groups, according to the Associated Press, as many schools have determined that they can’t, or at least shouldn’t, expel members of hate groups on campus. Leaders of these groups say they will no longer limit their efforts to social media or to flyers posted around campus, but intend to hold public demonstrations to bring the movement “into the sun.”
“It seems like what might have been a little in the shadows has come into full sun, and now it’s out there and exposed for everyone to see,” said Sue Riseling, a former police chief at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
As the AP reports, the young men who participated in Saturday’s rally marched through the Univeristy of Virginia’s campus holding torches and chanting racist slogans. Then the next morning some of them suited up with helmets and shields and clashed with counter-protesters, until 20-year-old James Alex Fields drove his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 26. The shift toward white nationalist and other far-right groups operating more openly began last year, when racist flyers popped up on college campuses at an unprecedented rate, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The group counted 161 white supremacist “flyering incidents” on 110 college campuses between September and June.
These incidents will likely only become more common as leaders of pro-white groups say it’s a cheap and easy way to gin up media coverage.
“Matthew Heimbach, the 26-year-old leader of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party, admits that dropping leaflets on campuses is a cheap way to generate media coverage.
As a student at Towson University in Maryland, Heimbach made headlines for forming a “White Student Union” and scrawling messages like “white pride” in chalk on campus sidewalks. His college years are behind him, but Heimbach still views colleges as promising venues to expand his group’s ranks. College students are running four of his group’s chapters, he said.
“The entire dynamic has changed,” Heimbach said. ‘I used to be the youngest person at white nationalist meetings by 20 or 30 years.’”
Many colleges are learning first hand that while they can condemn the violence during last weekend’s rally, expelling students because of their membership in a pro-white group would be something of a violation.
“Scores of schools publicly denounced the violence in Virginia this week, including some that learned they enroll students who attended the “Unite the Right” rally.
The University of Nevada, Reno, said it stands against bigotry and racism but concluded there’s “no constitutional or legal reason” to expel Peter Cvjetanovic, a 20-year-old student and school employee who attended the rally, as an online petition demanded.
Other schools, including Washington State University, condemned the rally but didn’t specifically address their students who attended it.
Campus leaders say they walk a fine line when trying to combat messages from hate groups. Many strive to protect speech even if it’s offensive but also recognize hate speech can make students feel unsafe. Some schools have sought to counter extremist messages with town halls and events promoting diversity. Others try to avoid drawing attention to hate speech.”
And some schools are simply refusing to dwell on the issue when hate groups spread leaflets around campus, arguing that’s what the extremists want them to do.
“After flyers promoting white supremacy were posted at Purdue University last school year, Purdue President Mitch Daniels refused to dwell on the incident.
“This is a transparent effort to bait people into overreacting, thereby giving a small fringe group attention it does not deserve, and that we decline to do,” Daniels said in a statement at the time.”
Nicholas Fuentes, a student who attended the “Unite the Right” rally, said he’d like to transfer to the University of Auburn from Boston University because he believes it will be more tolerant of his right-wing beliefs. “I’m ready to return to my base, return to my roots, to rally the troops and see what I can do down there,” Fuentes said in an interview this week.”
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Universities can continue to ban events by conservative speakers who they fear might incite violence, but the message is clear: conservative students will be protected from expulsion at most college campuses, but when it comes to the wrath of their Antifa-loving peers, well, that’s a different question entirely.