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Revealing Themselves on Campus

Nazi-style posters and images at Southern Methodist are the latest examples of white nationalists feeling bolder at colleges and universities.

December 5, 2017
 

While it’s unsurprising now when racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic posters crop up on college campuses, a rarer event is the white nationalist culprits sticking around to pose for photos.

But such is the case at Southern Methodist University, where police are currently investigating banners and posters espousing white supremacy that were hung over the weekend. Experts say white supremacists intentionally mean to rattle college campuses by being photographed with their handiwork.

Members of Texas Vanguard, an offshoot of Vanguard America, the white nationalist group that has grown in prominence since the presidential election, on Twitter claimed credit for the signs at Southern Methodist, which read, “Reclaim America. No more tolerance, no more diversity” and “White men! Save your people! Reject the opioid beast!”

Another poster mocked gay pride, insinuating gay people are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases and that they molest children.

In front of one banner, two members of the group gave the Nazi salute and posted a picture of it to Twitter, writing that they “had a great night.”

They were captured with skull masks covering their mouths, but campus police released images of five people, barefaced, who they believe posted the materials.

This image from the Southern Methodist University police show suspects who may have posted white nationalist fliers on campus.Such tactics -- white nationalists proving they visited campus -- can be used to scare minority students, said Carla Hill, an investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

While largely white supremacist movements started simply spreading their propaganda in the cloak of darkness, the contemporary political climate has buoyed them, Hill said. A common practice among Patriot Front -- another group closely aligned with the “alt-right,” characterized by fringe, right-wing and racist views -- is its members hanging large banners on overpasses and being photographed from a distance, so the public knows they were there, but their faces are unrecognizable.

In the bloody riots in Charlottesville, Va., in August, though, white nationalists felt emboldened enough to show their faces for a torch-lit march around the University of Virginia campus, which was followed by a riot the next day, where a woman was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counterprotesters.

When internet sleuths outed some of the men involved with the UVA demonstration and they lost their jobs, supporters of the white nationalist movement were galvanized to raise money for them so they continue their so-called activism, Hill said.

“It shows you’re more hard-core if you’re willing to show your face,” Hill said. “Typically, they get doxed, but they get a lot of support from the movement. You’re kind of a martyr when you get exposed and continue to be an activist.”

Since September 2016, the ADL has tracked 310 incidents of white nationalist propaganda on college campuses, with the numbers escalating -- 127 of those events occurred since September of this year, Hill said. Of the 310 incidents, 55 were based in Texas, which is where Southern Methodist is located.

Hill said she has not counted how many times white supremacists have posed with these posters.

President R. Gerald Turner released a statement that said anyone hanging “unauthorized” signs would be prosecuted.

“While SMU strongly supports freedom of speech and expression, the outside group featured on these signs promotes an abhorrent message that is opposite to SMU values,” Turner said in his statement. “Our university community is deeply committed to maintaining an educational environment that is welcoming and inclusive. As an institution dedicated to learning, we value respectful and civil discourse.”

Southern Methodist has encountered such fliers before. Posters listing the reasons why white women shouldn’t date black men were tacked around campus last semester, and a student was punished for hanging up fliers in response titled “why white women should date black men” that contained some clichés some might consider offensive. The student who posted the second round of fliers violated the institution’s conduct code and was given a deferred suspension.

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