Opposing far-right and openly fascist groups on campus

A monster is terrorising the global village. In the United States, Europe and Asia, far-right and openly fascist formations have ventured further into the political mainstream. A rise in the popularity of European far-right organisations leading up to and following Donald Trump’s US electoral success left some anticipating a ‘Nationalist Spring’ on the continent.

Though hard-right parties failed to achieve decisive parliamentary victories, the case may still be made for the fact that a transnational far-right alliance is forming on multiple fronts.

One such front is the college or university campus. The Campus Antifascist Network, a multinational, inter-collegiate organisation of activist-scholars with 11 chapters in the US and Canada alone, envisions itself as a part of the resistance to this disturbing trend.

A massive spike in hate crimes and active hate groups following Trump’s election has intensified racist terror on campuses throughout the US.

In May of 2017, a white University of Maryland student linked to racist alt-right organisations fatally stabbed a black student and hate crimes across college campuses have surged. Elsewhere, fascist organisations like Matthew Heimbach’s Traditionalist Worker Party and Identity Evropa continue openly recruiting on other campuses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that flyers urging white students to join fascist organisations have appeared on over 140 campuses nationwide, like those from Vanguard America that appeared at Purdue University in November of 2016. The threat to students could not be clearer.

Death threats against faculty

But faculty are also affected. Princeton University Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was forced to cancel speaking engagements upon receiving death threats after delivering a speech critical of Trump. On other campuses, professors George Ciccariello-Maher, Dana Cloud, Johnny Eric Williams and Sarah Bond have been targets of right-wing smear campaigns with little or no administrative support.

Indeed, college administrators seem content to continue courting these far-right hatemongers under the guise of defending ‘free speech’, while putting our campus communities at risk.

The right-wing upsurge is not unique to the United States. It has also escalated in Europe. European zealots have undergone various iterations, including the neo-Nazi internet platform Stormfront in the 1990s and Anders Breivik’s white racist terrorism in 2011. In recent years, their influence has entered electoral politics and promoted xenophobic policies.

In Germany, the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD, has expressed anti-immigrant sentiments while also pushing for neoliberal and environmentally destructive policies. With a popularity of 15%, the AfD is projected to win seats in the German parliament in the upcoming elections on 24 September.

In Hungary and Slovakia, xenophobic rhetoric has even gone so far as to deny refugees the right to relocate to their countries – despite European Union quotas and international law requiring them to accept these migrants. Similar to the so-called ‘alt-right’ in the US, Hungarian fascists have tried to legitimise themselves by seeking out an audience on university campuses and in publishing.

The demand for action is urgent and the Campus Antifascist Network is mobilising against fascist and far-right threats to campus communities.

Building coalitions against hate

The Campus Antifascist Network, or CAN, seeks to protect and defend students and faculty who are the targets of far-right hate. These efforts include building broad-based coalitions with student, faculty and activist organisations, in part through encouraging individuals and organisations to pledge support for the network.

CAN also develops organising resources in real-time, like its ongoing work with students and faculty at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in response to threats from the alt-right ‘Proud Boys’. CAN has also developed a step-by-step guide to mobilising against fascist speakers invited to campuses and a comprehensive syllabus designed for teach-ins and other political events.

In California, CAN members are directly involved in the fight to ban fascist fashionista Milo Yiannopoulos from California State University Fullerton and have published an open letter discouraging CSUF from honouring the invitation.

In defending faculty, CAN is continually in dialogue with and developing legal contacts through the Legal Aid Society, community-based legal aid organisations and through the network’s ties to other scholar-activist groups.

Recently, CAN released a statement in support of Dartmouth History Professor Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook for his comments on anti-fascist action in Charlottesville. CAN will continue to develop resources to galvanise support for students and faculty as such attacks are certain to continue.

Additionally, network members are actively shaping the discourse on anti-fascist activism in and out of the academy. This includes providing on-the-ground statements that challenge mainstream media narratives about protest actions like the recent events in Berkeley and confronting prevailing misunderstandings of anti-fascist strategies and tactics.

Not only are many such arguments based on specious claims, but false equivalences that fail to see a distinction between defence against right-wing violence and that violence itself, simply provide cover for far-right provocateurs and terrorists – and only further imperil the communities that we should be defending and supporting.

Nor should hollow liberal platitudes about ‘free speech’ excuse the direct incitement to violence that is fascist rhetoric. There can be no reasoned debate when the opposition argues for genocide and against the right of already marginalised people to exist.


Defeating the far right in the United States and abroad requires a series of coordinated actions in which networks of scholars and activists can promptly mobilise their forces on university campuses and beyond.

This will mean forming an international united front where scholars can learn about each other’s struggles and experiment with various tactics – we already have network members who are active in Germany and Canada. Having organisation not only ensures that the ‘Left’ is politically confident, but that they will be empowered to effectively challenge the far right at universities.

In the wake of the reversal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, universities can also be a fulcrum to support migrant workers and students on campuses. It is in this vein that fighting the far right will also mean fighting the policies that the state purports, particularly in the US as the collusion between the far right and the Trump administration continually intensifies. And CAN is equal to the task.

Professor Clayton J Plake and Edna Bonhomme are members of the Campus Antifascist Network. Nantina Vgontzas also contributed to this article. To find out more, email cannetwork.fighttheh8@gmail.com


Antifa are illiberal hard-left agitators who promote the initiation of violence on university campuses and elsewhere. They are not against fascism, they are simply another form of it. If UWN is going to publish puff pieces about them, they should at least include a disclaimer that such pieces are opinion and not news.

Steve Foerster on the University World News Facebook page

Thank you for the feedback, Steve. This piece is an opinion article, not a news story, and is indicated as such by virtue of being published in our Commentary section. As such it represents the personal opinion of the authors, not the opinion of University World News. Jacquie, for UWN