Campus crusaders for hate

Nicole Colson provides the facts you need to know about some of the conservative, "alt-right" and downright fascist groups that might be coming to a university near you.

White supremacists, led by Matthew Heimbach (right) vandalize the Towson University campusWhite supremacists, led by Matthew Heimbach (right) vandalize the Towson University campus

THIS FALL, it isn't just students who are returning to college campuses. Right-wingers of all stripes--including neo-Nazis, in several cases--are showing up as well, aiming to win students to their noxious worldviews.

These reactionaries understand something the left does, too: that universities are ideological battlegrounds, where young people can become radicalized. So the right is heading into the fall with the aim of dominating on campuses and recruiting students to their own brand of activism.

And their cover story is to play the innocent victim--of supposedly liberal administrations and cruel left-wing professors and students who take away their cherished right to "free speech." Meanwhile, they mercilessly scapegoat and victimize people of color, undocumented immigrants, women, LGBTQ people and other oppressed minorities.

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ONCE AGAIN, the University of California (UC) at Berkeley is ground zero for the alt-reich.

Last week, the College Republicans and Young America's Foundation--which is tied to the billionaire Koch Brothers--brought conservative commenter Ben Shapiro to speak on campus.

A former editor of the Breitbart "news" website, Shapiro claims in his book Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth that U.S. colleges and universities "promote atheism, sexual perversion (including pedophilia and statutory rape), and rampant environmentalism."

That's an odd claim, considering the lengths to which the Berkeley administration went in order to make sure Shapiro had the opportunity to promote his bigoted views. The UC administration found a venue for him--along with many hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure the event went off without a hitch.

UC Berkeley agreed to pay for the rental of Zellerbach Hall and staffing of the event, not to mention additional security fees and other costs. "In all," Newsweek reported, "the public university was estimated to have spent $600,000 on security for the talk by the controversial commentator."

Additionally, reported the Los Angeles Times, the campus underwent "unprecedented" actions to curtail left-wing counterprotests, including bringing out "[p]olice officers and physical barriers...in a roughly half-mile-long perimeter around six campus buildings Thursday afternoon, cutting off access to Sproul Plaza, the site of Mario Savio's famous 1964 address during the free speech movement and a common meeting ground for activists of all stripes."

And coming up next week: A collection of right-wing groups at Berkeley, including the College Republicans and Berkeley Patriot, is planning four days of hate--dubbed "Free Speech Week"--beginning September 24. The reactionary speakers have even been arranged thematically, with professional Islamophobe Pamela Geller coming for so-called "Islamic Peace and Tolerance Day" and Ann Coulter headlining "Mario Savio Is Dead" Day.

It was unclear, as this article was being written, whether the events would take place, since right-wing student groups at Berkeley responsible for the meetings had reportedly missed multiple deadlines for submitting contracts with venues and speakers, security plans and more. Some of the supposedly "confirmed" speakers--like peddler of racist pseudoscience Charles Murray--declared that they had never even agreed to speak.

But that didn't stop UC Berkeley officials from bending over backward to disregard their own regulations for right-wing student groups. As of late Tuesday night, Free Speech Week will go on, even though only two speakers (Milo Yiannopoulos and Islamophobe David Horowitz) have even confirmed with the campus they were attending--another requirement.

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THIS FALL, Berkeley won't stand alone either. At Columbia University in New York City, the College Republicans are bringing Mike Cernovich, a self-professed "American nationalist" and alt-right conspiracy theorist, to campus.

Cernovich surged to prominence in the alt-reich scene (though he rejects that label) due to his social media interaction with Donald Trump during last year's election--and White House officials since then. Last year, he was a main force behind bizarre claims that Hillary Clinton was connected to a pedophile ring in a pizza shop (referred to as "#PizzaGate").

According to the New York Times, Cernovich got his start as "a men's self-help writer whose work disdained feminism and promoted a message of men's empowerment that often dwelled on the question of how to meet women"--and claimed that date rape is a made-up concept.

Given that the Columbia administration recently settled a lawsuit filed by the male student accused of rape by Emma Sulkowicz--whose "carry the weight" protest against sexual assault drew widespread support and attention--bringing someone like Cernovich to campus represents a horrifying ideological assault on women's rights and rape survivors in particular. That he will receive a fat honorarium to peddle his lies adds insult to injury.

Other reported guests invited by Columbia's College Republicans are former English Defense League head, open racist and anti-Muslim bigot Tommy Robinson, who has a history of violent altercations--and Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager and pharmaceutical company executive convicted of securities fraud in August.

In Shkreli's case, there's no word on whether his upcoming prison sentence will impede his planned talk at Columbia.

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CAMPUS SPEAKING tours by the right aren't new. And the claims that such groups are being marginalized by campus administrations are not only easily disproven, but usually laughable. (Try comparing the funding of the College Republican group at your school and the campus socialists.)

But beyond speaking events, a crop of "alt-right"-style groups is being emboldened on campus--taking a more confrontational and harassing approach to left-wing students and student groups.

This includes groups the "Red Elephants"--a conservative group known for its YouTube videos--and for its claims to stand for "liberties, freedoms and constitutional rights of the American people. Our goal is to spread truth to the citizens of this great nation by reporting news and promoting free thinking."

Apparently, however, "free thinking" means the "freedom to think" only like them.

Those who disagree with the group's right-wing worldview or its promotion of white supremacists like Kyle "Based Stickman" Chapman--known for beating an anti-racist protester over the head with a stick--are subjected to ridicule and harassment, both online and in real life.

At UC Berkeley, for example, members of the Red Elephants, joined by student members of the libertarian group Liberty Hangout, have disrupted or attempted to disrupt multiple meetings of progressive organizations, including a recent meeting of a campus club affiliated with the International Socialist Organization, the publisher of this newspaper.

As the OC Weekly reported, the Red Elephants' "main claim to fame is livestreams of events that are transformed into glitch-heavy videos that depict the left as the sole aggressors in political clashes, which, for Red Elephants, justifies the violent reactions of the alt-right."

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OTHER GROUPS that aren't necessarily new to campus disruption have escalated their activism in the wake of Trump's election a year ago.

Turning Point USA, founded in 2012, claims to have a "presence" at more than 1,000 college campuses and high schools and aims to "identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government" in order to "push back against intolerance and bias against conservatives in higher education."

How does it do that? By promoting intolerance and bias in the form of the "Professor Watchlist" website--a not-so-veiled blacklist that the group says is to "expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda."

In reality, of course, liberal and left-wing professors and academics have overwhelmingly borne the brunt of attacks on their jobs by conservatives and campus administrations--with little defense of their "free-speech rights" that the reactionaries have suddenly developed such a fondness for.

As Princeton professor and author Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor noted in a New York Times op-ed article, "When it comes to protecting the speech of people who are most vulnerable to being intimidated into silence--like people of color and gay people--conservatives either are suspiciously quiet or drive further intimidation with wildly negative news coverage."

For professors and vulnerable students--undocumented immigrants and LGBTQ people, for example--such harassment can have lasting real-world consequences.

Turning Point claims to be opposing leftist attempts to take over campuses, but it was exposed earlier this year for secretly funding at least two candidates in a campaign for Undergraduate Student Government at Ohio State University (OSU). According to leaked text messages, the group set aside at least $6,000 for the candidates, as part of "a nationwide effort to put conservative students into student governments at colleges across the U.S."

"Liberals consistently dominate campus student government and our goal is to secretly take them out without them knowing what's coming," a message from Turning Point USA Leadership Director Kennedy Copeland reportedly said.

Can anyone imagine the outcry if a national progressive organization was caught funding attempts to "secretly take out" conservatives from student governments?

Turning Point isn't the only group looking to exploit the current campus climate to push free-market ideology.

Spiked Online and Reason.com recently announced that they are teaming up to sponsor campus speaking events this fall dubbed the "Unsafe Space" tour.

Spiked is a libertarian publication that once claimed a variant of Marxism from its founder Frank Furedi, but now mainly attacks the left. Reason--whose tag line is "free minds and free markets"--has long been a bastion for libertarian thinkers like Milton Friedman.

Calling the tour "Unsafe Spaces" is a deliberate provocation--an attempt to needle left-wing activists over the perception that political correctness has run amok and campuses have devolved into places where liberals and progressives are so fragile that they can't handle the free exchange of ideas.

"Universities in the nation that gave us the First Amendment and the Sixties student Free Speech Movement have been besieged by an unholy alliance between a self-raised army of student offence-takers and busybody bureaucrats, willing to ban a speaker or snuff out inconvenient thought as soon as someone cries 'bigot,'" claims the tour website.

In other words, the tour is an attempt to promote the same kind of ideological assault on liberal and left ideas that was popular with the right during the 1990s--when conservative figures used the ideological offensive in the service of rolling back gains made on campuses during the 1960s and restructuring universities and campuses along neoliberal lines.

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AND THEN there are the outright Nazis and fascists.

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in February documented increased white nationalist, Ku Klux Klan and anti-Semitic organizing on campuses. "Emboldened by a presidential candidate who embraced their ideas with a nudge and a wink, and electrified by his victory, white nationalists in 2016 fanned out and spread their message of fear and loathing among the nation's young people," the SPLC wrote.

In the weeks since Charlottesville and the murder of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer, several far-right neo-Nazi groups and activists have made it clear that they see college campuses as key to recruiting to their noxious cause--and that they haven't been put on the defensive by the outrage that erupted after their deadly violence.

Richard Spencer, one of main forces behind the gathering of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, has plans to speak at the University of Florida in October--and is suing multiple schools that have canceled his speaking engagements or denied his requests to speak on safety grounds after the violence he helped promote in Charlottesville.

Or there's Identity Evropa--the group known for chanting "You will not replace us" in Charlottesville. Under the auspices of founder Jason Damigo, the group bills itself as "a generation of awakened Europeans who have discovered that we are part of the great peoples, history, and civilization" and advocates for a "90 percent white America."

The SPLC says that Damigo has previously targeted professors who taught courses on the concept of white privilege and has promoted "white student unions" on campuses. As The Root noted:

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Identity Evropa distributed flyers and literature on 65 campuses in 2016, and its posters and flyers have already been spotted at more than a dozen colleges in the first few weeks of the 2017-2018 school year. Using catchphrases like "Our generation, our future, our last chance" and "Action. Leadership. Identity," the group has streamlined a process called "#ProjectSiege" that is geared toward indoctrinating young people.

Identity Evropa calls #ProjectSiege "the beginning of a long-term cultural war of attrition" and outlines how its brainwashing process works. It begins with innocuous conversations and gauging to see if the young person is left- or right-leaning.

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THE TRADITIONALIST Worker Party (TWP)--whose members also gathered in Charlottesville and reportedly were some of the most violent--not only has an orientation to campuses and college students, but it attempts to appeal to students who feel as though they are being left behind by capitalism.

As opposed to some of the libertarian and pro-free market forces organizing on campuses, the TWP claims it was created "by and for working families" and is opposed to capitalism, using tag lines like "Class cooperation against capitalism and communism" and "Local solutions to the globalist problem." Of course, in their estimation, the "globalist problem" is Jews, non-Christians and LGBTQ people, among others.

The TWP also makes overtures to those concerned about the destruction of the environment, decrying "increasing levels of pollution, economic exploitation and political cronyism" destroying the way of life for "millions of White Appalachians."

According to the SPLC, TWP leader Matthew Heimbach got his start as a baby racist by attempting to form a "white student union" in high school, and later college. Seeing students as key to recruiting to its racist hate, the group posts flyers, holds protests and tables on campuses--particularly in Appalachia.

The TWP actually formed out of the Traditionalist Youth Network--a youth group that claims its mission was "to provide resources and support to independent groups of high school and college students throughout North America"--and not the other way around.

While the crusaders of hate in groups like the TWP might represent the most toxic and violent racism, they are part of a continuum of the right wing that aims to reverse any and all progressive gains on campuses, recruit foot soldiers to their right-wing ranks and remake campuses to promote a more overt right-wing ideology.

We know what will be lost if they succeed: the rights of oppressed and marginalized students to organize and gain access to resources in education; the ability of professors, campus activists and workers to speak out; and the safety of larger communities faced with a growing and emboldened far-right threat.

Stopping future Charlottesvilles requires standing up to the alt-reich on our campuses today.