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White Supremacists, in Person on Campus

At Colorado State, skirmishes follow a speech, and anger follows anti-immigrant posters. At Tennessee, concerns arise over a room booked under apparently false pretenses. Colorado State president issues statement saying, "A Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi."

February 5, 2018
 

Colleges nationwide have seen a surge in white supremacist propaganda showing up on campuses, but most of that activity has not involved in-person appearances. Rather, various groups appear to be putting up posters and distributing hateful literature in the night without identifying themselves.

But in the last week, Colorado State University and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville have been debating responses to white nationalists who have appeared on campus or plan to do so.

At Colorado State, physical skirmishes between white nationalists (some of whom reportedly chanted Nazi slogans) and anti-fascist (antifa) activists took place Thursday night outside a lecture by Charlie Kirk, founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, a controversial conservative group. Students, both in favor of and opposed to Kirk's ideas, held peaceful protests about the appearance of Kirk, who has disavowed the white nationalists. University officials said that the clashes outside are believed to have involved nonstudents without affiliations with Colorado State. One Colorado State police officer suffered non-life-threatening injuries as the university police force worked to get the outside groups to disperse.

Officials at Colorado State said that the police officers did not definitively determine the affiliations of the white nationalists. But many students and others say they were members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which the university said was on campus earlier in the week and was responsible for anti-immigrant posters that appeared on campus.

At the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, meanwhile, university officials confirmed that a group that is apparently the Traditionalist Worker Party had reserved a room on campus for a lecture. However, the university is still determining its response to the group. The university does permit groups that are not affiliated with it to reserve some spaces on campus. But in this case, the reservation was made in the name of a local church. Then the university was called and the reservation's contact person was changed to a leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party. The church that was named said it never reserved a room and had no ties to the party.

What Is the Traditionalist Worker Party?

Some groups on the far right of American politics object to being called alt-right, white nationalist or neo-Nazi. But the Traditionalist Worker Party is very clear on its website that it believes in white supremacy and embraces Nazi ideas and symbolism.

The group calls for the creation of a new country in the United States in which only white people would be able to vote, with others removed to their own states. The group says it will "declare war on colonialism, capitalism, communism, international Jewry, and neo-imperialism." The website calls for national socialism to replace the current government. "Today’s global capitalist system is the enemy of all humanity and represents the greatest threat to the continued existence of our people," the website says. "Its policies of mass immigration and anti-white 'anti-racism' are an attack on the white working class and their ability to organize collectively. Its clear goal, as with Marxism, is the complete replacement of our people with an endless supply of alienated peoples, cut off from ties of blood, soil, religion, and identity; who can be more easily controlled and exploited by the Jewish and their capitalist running dogs."

The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, two organizations that monitor bigoted groups, both classify the Traditionalist Worker Party as an extremist hate group. Their reports on the group can be found here and here.

The leader of the party is Matthew Heimbach, who in 2011 as a student at Towson University started a controversial group there called Youth for Western Civilization.

On the Traditionalist Worker Party website, Heimbach writes that the Tennessee lecture is the start of a campaign to appear at many college campuses. The tour is to be called National Socialism or Death.

Explaining the need for the tour, Heimbach writes, "From Germany to Greece to the United States, the former places of higher education have been turned into ideological indoctrination centers for Jewish intellectuals to turn our youth against their people, their religion, and their culture."

Inside Higher Ed submitted questions about the Colorado State and Tennessee incidents to the Traditionalist Worker Party and has not received any replies.

Colorado State Posters

At Colorado State, the posters that went up this week identified themselves as coming from the party.

Tony Frank, president of the university, sent a message to students and faculty members in which he said that, as a public institution, Colorado State respects the First Amendment and free expression. Further, he noted that the students who invited Kirk to campus had followed the rules and had every right to hold their event. Frank went on to say that it was essential for higher education leaders -- when groups such as the Traditionalist Worker Party assert "repugnant" views -- speak out against those views.

"The TWP goes by various names online, but let me keep this simple: a Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi. And the members of the Traditionalist Worker Party are unapologetic Nazis who advocate murdering all those who don’t align with their worldview. They don’t even pretend to keep this a secret. They put it out there unashamedly for anyone who wants to read it," Frank wrote. "It’s easy, for those of us from a certain privileged vantage point, to dismiss this sort of extremist rhetoric as pathetic, ignorant, unworthy of our attention. But historical precedent is clear as to why that’s a mistake. Such groups are insidious. They generally hide and grow in the dark, avoiding the direct light of day. When they emerge, they frequently align themselves with groups who hold more mainstream views, as was the case with the anti-immigration flyer scattered on our campus. Their ideas then play into the prejudices and fears of people who would never intentionally align themselves with someone who openly identified as a Nazi -- even people whose grandparents or great-grandparents fought and died to stop the Nazis in World War II. When these groups edge in and gain a foothold wherever there’s one to be gained, the erosion of human decency quickly follows."

Added Frank, "Let’s shine a bright light on this and call it for what it is. Colorado State University denounces the racist, homophobic rants of this and any other white nationalist organization that attempts to gain inroads on our campus or in our community. We denounce the sexist, rape-supportive culture they idealize. We denounce their stigmatizing of religions they do not share -- and their attempts to claim our national identity as exclusively their own."

Tennessee Appearance

At the University of Tennessee, officials have said that they are consulting with law enforcement and others on how to respond to the planned campus appearance by the Traditionalist Worker Party.

The issue of deception may be important there. When the person claiming to represent a church signed up to reserve the room, the stated lecture topic was not "National Socialism or Death," but "Problems in Appalachia, From Opioid Addiction to Poverty," university officials said.

Some early local reports about the planned lecture quoted the Traditionalist Worker Party as saying it had been invited to the university. Officials said they do not believe anyone at the campus has invited the group.

Tennessee has been debating issues of free speech and inclusivity since December, prompted in part by writings on a large rock on campus on which students post statements of all kinds. In December, someone wrote "White pride" on the rock.

Beverly J. Davenport, chancellor at Tennessee, sent a message to students last month in which she too noted the university's First Amendment obligation not to censor. But she said that speaking out against bigotry was important, especially right now.

"Across the country, white supremacist groups are targeting colleges and universities, hoping to promote their beliefs and recruit members. Groups like the one that has been writing on our Rock have been described as being closely aligned with neo-Nazis and other hardline racist organizations. They are coming to our campuses precisely because of our commitment to inclusion and our mission to promote free speech," she wrote.

As to what to do, she added, "I encourage all of you to be guardians of our campus. Protect it and make it a symbol of what you honor and love. Take care of it and each other. Be mindful of what’s hurtful and hateful. If you see something hateful or hurtful on the Rock, say something and/or enlist the help of others to paint over it. If your classmates, colleagues, or friends feel vulnerable or targeted, reach out to them and to us. Support them. Make sure they know they are valued and protected. Kindness matters. Words matter. Support matters."

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