College life in Philly

Philly college campuses hit by hate groups’ ‘unprecedented’ recruiting

Flyers and stickers have been pulled from Penn and Temple’s campuses in the last two months.

The LOVE statue at Penn, covered in anti-Nazi counter-flyers.

The LOVE statue at Penn, covered in anti-Nazi counter-flyers.

Photo provided to Billy Penn
Cassie Owens, Reporter/Curator

If white supremacy has a street team, college campuses around the country have become a prime location to pound the pavement — and Philly has not been exempt from the trend. As Billy Penn reported, Neo-Nazi recruitment fliers were seen, then yanked, from Penn’s campus in late April; a few weeks before, Temple University officials confirm, stickers promoting a hate group were spotted on its North Philly campus.

In a letter to Penn faculty and students, President Amy Gutmann condemned the action.

“Although the flyers in question are no longer posted, we think it important to take this opportunity to remind the community of our shared conviction that hatred and fear-mongering have no place at Penn,” she wrote. “Our University strives to be a place that is safe and welcoming for all students, faculty and staff. Expressing hate or animus for any group of individuals is vile and reprehensible.”

In late March, stickers promoting the statewide skinhead group Keystone United were posted around Temple. Brandon Lausch, a university spokesman, told Billy Penn a student found some, removed them and alerted campus officials. Temple Police found another directly after and pulled it. Lausch added that officers have been on the lookout since, but the university isn’t aware of any subsequent incidents. Some of the stickers read #WhiteLivesMatter, but many read “Defending Our Heritage,” one of Keystone United’s slogans. The skinhead organization tweeted photos of the stickers. (Billy Penn is not aware any other instances of white supremacist tagging this semester. We’ve reached out to Drexel, La Salle, St. Joe’s, Haverford, Swarthmore and Villanova. If we discover any similar occurrences, we’ll update this post.)

“It makes me just angry… it’s not even insulting. I see this and it reminds me of the people who are out there who are looking to hurt people who don’t look like them,” Temple sophomore Hannah Larocca, who posted photos of the stickers on Facebook, told the Temple News. “To see this kind of hate on display toward members of the community that are of color and students of color just makes me burn to my core, honestly.”

Penn freshman Justin Horn told the Daily Pennsylvanian that the fliers made him “angry and scared.”

Experts say that recruitment efforts have intensified since President Donald Trump’s win in November. There are several reasons, tactically, why college campuses have become fertile ground for this kind of activity.

“Trump is viewed as a person who represents their belief, and they see it as a way to gain back power and strength,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They feel that they’re being dispossessed by people of color and foreigners.” Consider too, that a widespread trend among activists nationwide has been arguing for policy changes to make campuses more welcoming of minorities.

“There’s been a real push for diversity, inclusion and safe spaces. For their interests, white males on campus have felt not engaged or a part of that process,” she continued. “In [white supremacist] fliers, they say you should not be ashamed of white privilege but embrace it as their own.”

Many such extremists seek to build a base of support with younger voters, and there’s a certain allure to infiltrating universities, which are “seen as liberal bastions of thought,” Brooks described.

The Anti-Defamation League has been tracking white supremacist fliers for the 2016-17 school year. Their data, last updated on April 24, shows that postings occurred at nearly 150 campuses. The ADL called this current college outreach “unprecedented,” noting that while white nationalists have made their presence known on campuses before, incidents of this nature were “relatively infrequent.”

Think Progress analyzed Google Trends and found that 2008 was a key year for online networking among hate groups. Wired also noted that 2008 gave rise to the term “alt-right.”

“Where white supremacists once gathered around a burning cross, now they gather on 4chan, in white power Reddit forums, and hashtags like #WhiteGenocide, and in the comments section for media outlets like Breitbart,” Issie Lapowsky, a senior writer at Wired, reported.

Covering bulletin boards on college campuses is a stop in the recruitment cycle: Mobilize online, then try to reach likeminded student bigots with an IRL push that often directs those interested back to the sites where self-identified Nazis, fascists and racists interact. While social media users have taken credit for certain flyers, including the ones found at Penn, you can think of surreptitiously stapling a flyer like leaving an anonymous comment on a news site.

The recruitment materials have inspired more activism in response. After the fliers were yanked at Penn, progressives threw up anti-Nazi counter posters. The Southern Poverty Law Center invites students to join their efforts through campus clubs as part of their SPLC on Campus initiative.

Experts say the fliers are a sign of more efforts to come.

“It won’t be the end of it,” said Brooks. “It’s just a first step, it is a way to garner attention, it creates an opportunity to amplify their message.”

Mark Pitcavage, an ADL senior research fellow, told Vocativ the postings are a play for larger exposure: “The resulting social media and traditional media coverage [bigoted fliering] will ensure that far, far more people will hear about the fliers than ever actually physically laid eyes on them,” he said. “Lots of bang for the buck; getting a lot of reach out of limited manpower.”

White nationalist organizations American Vanguard, Identity Evropa, Traditionalist Youth Network and American Renaissance are some of the groups more commonly identified in campus propaganda. As Billy Penn reported, the fliers spotted at Penn promoted the forum Iron March, neo-Nazi news site the Daily Stormer and one of Iron March’s subgroups Atomwaffen Division. (Atomwaffen means nuclear weapons in German.) The division’s Twitter account has been suspended. The San Antonio Express-News spoke to a division member via Facebook last summer, who described their organization as new and noted the colleges they’d recruited at already.

Brooks wasn’t familiar with Atomwaffen Division before our interview. She called them “an example of how this is being replicated around the country, and how other groups are popping up.”

“Hate speech is protected speech, but that’s not the issue,” Brooks continued. “We need to look at the normalization of white nationalism.”

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