The modern far right has set its sights on America’s young people by targeting college campuses for recruitment and intimidation.
White nationalist groups such as the American Identity Movement (AIM) and more nebulous far-right movements continue to seek to appeal to students, in hopes of increasing their pool of potential recruits while chasing legitimacy. These groups promote their views as legitimate political philosophies. Other groups, such as neo-Nazis seeking the breakdown of state institutions, view colleges and universities as full of ideological opponents and racial and ethnic enemies.
AIM and similar groups view the university campus as a prime environment in which to promote their propaganda as intellectual discourse while building social networks. AIM is a rebranded version of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group that sought to import and modify European identitarianism (the belief in a core European, i.e., white, identity, which adherents view as threatened by foreign elements such as immigration) for an American audience. Identity Evropa promoted the “preservation” of Western (i.e., white) culture and focused its early recruitment efforts on university campuses through the creation of student groups. In 2017, Identity Evropa propaganda appeared on more than 30 college campuses. That December, the group’s new leader, Patrick Casey, publicly sought to distance Identity Evropa from the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where an anti-fascist activist was murdered in a far-right vehicular ramming. Casey called for more far-right activism on college campuses, ranging from banner drops and demonstrations to social events. Casey later led Identity Evropa’s rebranding as AIM in 2019, portraying the ideology of defending the pure European identity as a patriotic American ideal.
In February 2020, AIM members continued to spread the group’s propaganda on campuses, including Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada, Ohio University Southern Campus in Ironton, Ohio, and Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City, South Dakota. In all three locations, propaganda displayed by the group sought to appeal to white students and pushed a nationalist anti-immigration message. One such poster featured the slogan “Immigration Kills” imposed over a bottle of Corona beer relabeled Corona Virus, attempting to link immigration to the spread of COVID-19. Other posters featured patriotic iconography such as a bald eagle and Uncle Sam while promoting “NATIONALISM NOT GLOBALISM” and calling to end immigration.
Propagandists and members of far-right nationalist movements, such as Nicholas Fuentes, have sought to confront conservatives to gain publicity and spread extremist messages. Fuentes has been linked to white nationalism and anti-Semitism and marched in the 2017 Unite the Right rally. In November 2019, he heckled an event featuring Donald Trump Jr. at the University of California, Los Angeles to the point of it being shut down. In comments to the Washington Post, Fuentes claimed that while he supported President Donald Trump, he opposed the conservative group that hosted the event as insufficiently conservative.
Radical neo-Nazi groups that aspire to commit acts of violence, such as the Feuerkrieg Division (FKD) and The Base (both now defunct) have taken a different approach to campuses. In November 2019, FKD fliers promoting white supremacist violence that read “It’s Okay To Genocide Subhumans” were found on the campus of the University of North Florida. Messages on FKD’s Telegram channel indicated that the group was pleased their posters had been seen and that the university administration issued a response. A November 2019 video by The Base showed members posting propaganda on the campus of Boston University in an attempt to intimidate attendees of an anarchist book fair scheduled to be held there. The book fair was, in the end, moved off campus. In both cases, neo-Nazis sought to intimidate and disrupt those viewed as ideological opponents. Unlike AIM, FKD and The Base viewed violent disruption as their primary tool to expedite a race war that would exterminate so-called inferior races.
Patriot Front, the most prolific white supremacist group in terms of public propaganda efforts, routinely targets colleges and universities. Patriot Front is a white nationalist group that favors displays of perceived strength, such as marches and demonstrations. Patriot Front’s propaganda frequently features anti-immigration themes and white supremacist slogans. The Anti-Defamation League reported that in 2019, Patriot Front was responsible for 59 percent of white supremacist propaganda incidents on college and university campuses in the U.S., amounting to around 372 events. According to Patriot Front’s online propaganda channels, from January 1 to June 15, 2020, Patriot Front spread propaganda in the form of fliers, stickers, and posters at 78 different colleges and universities across the U.S. It is seemingly unlikely that Patriot Front members attend many of the targeted institutions, but nonetheless they seek to spread their messaging and intimidate students and faculty. In November 2019, a Patriot Front -affiliated Telegram account mocked students for their concern regarding white nationalist fliers.
Colleges and universities will continue to be attractive targets for the far right, whether they seek to find members, intimidate, or provoke responses from their opponents. Hate speech that specifically targets protected groups can be limited, but groups like AIM employ specific language promoting white identity that frequently avoids overtly calling other cultures inferior. While neo-Nazi groups such as The Base and FKD blatantly promoted hate speech and violence, white nationalists such as AIM and Fuentes instead attempt to frame their bigotry within certain campus norms as opposition to values such as multiculturalism and immigration. The former is predicated on tearing down others, while the latter is based on a strategy of promoting the uniqueness of—and dangers to—one’s own racial identity in packaging meant to be more palatable to the public. This allows them to shield their campus activities as exercises in free speech and makes it difficult for public universities to clamp down on their displays of bigotry. Groups such as Patriot Front combine elements of the two, seeking to intimidate and threaten in some circumstances, while claiming legitimacy in others.
It is crucial that educators, staff, and especially students are able to recognize far-right groups on campus in an effort to make institutions of higher learning more inhospitable to organizations that seek to divide and destroy.