Steep rise in white supremacist propaganda on campuses

New data released on Thursday by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows an alarming increase in white supremacist propaganda on United States college campuses during the 2017 autumn semester, confirming that they feel emboldened in the current political climate.

ADL’s Center on Extremism has recorded 346 incidents since 1 September 2016, where white supremacists have used fliers, stickers, banners and posters to spread their message. These incidents targeted 216 college campuses – from Ivy League universities to local community colleges – in 44 states and Washington DC.

During the autumn semester of 2017, there were 147 such incidents, a staggering 258% increase over the 41 incidents that took place during the same semester in September to December 2016.

Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO, said: “White supremacists are targeting college campuses like never before.

“They see campuses as a fertile recruiting ground, as evident by the unprecedented volume of propagandist activity designed to recruit young people to support their vile ideology.”

Among the most active groups is Identity Evropa (IE), a white supremacist group focused on the preservation of “white American culture” and promoting white European identity. The group, which ADL tracks on an ongoing basis, was responsible for 158 of the 346 incidents, or almost half the total (46%).

In the last week of January, white supremacist groups Patriot Front and Vanguard America plastered college campuses with fliers, demonstrating that the trend shows no signs of stopping, ADL said. Vanguard America vandalised a Black History Month poster at Middle Tennessee State University with its own propaganda.

Texas and California have been hardest hit by the incidents, with 61 and 43, respectively, last autumn. Those states are home to the most concentrated and active membership for IE and Patriot Front, the groups that most frequently employ this tactic, ADL said.

Alt-right speaking engagements

White supremacist campus activism doesn’t end with paper propaganda. Since the 2016 presidential campaign they have been stepping out of the shadows into the mainstream, ADL noted.

Prominent alt-right figure Richard Spencer has held a number of public speaking engagements on college campuses over the past 18 months. Spencer spoke at Texas A&M University in December 2016, Auburn University in April 2017, and the University of Florida in October 2017.

He is scheduled to speak at Michigan State University in March and is attempting to hold an event at Kent State University on 4 May, the 48th anniversary of the murder of four unarmed students, and wounding of nine others, by Ohio National Guardsmen during anti-Vietnam protests at the campus.

“While campuses must respect and protect free speech, administrators must also address the need to counter hate groups’ messages and show these bigoted beliefs belong in the darkest shadows, not in our bright halls of learning,” Greenblatt said. “There is a moral obligation to respond clearly and forcefully to constitutionally protected hate speech.”

In testimony to Congress last July during a hearing on “Challenges to Freedom of Speech on College Campuses”, ADL provided policy recommendations to address hate speech on campus. These included educating faculty and students on the parameters of their First Amendment rights that protect freedom of speech, and improving training for campus officials on responding to bias incidents and hate crimes.

According to ADL, white supremacists are mobilising in the hope of translating their online activism to “real world” action, and campuses – and young people – are prime targets for recruitment, in part because they are still figuring out who they are, and what they believe. Extremists also undoubtedly see value in recruiting a new generation that can carry the movement for years to come.

Long-time white supremacist Jared Taylor last year wrote on his website, American Renaissance, that colleges are of special interest “because they are bastions of anti-white propaganda”.

Last February alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos told CNN: “I am speaking on college campuses because education … is really what matters. It’s a crucible where these bad ideas are formed. Bad ideas like … progressive social justice, feminists, Black Lives Matter…”