'Alt-Right' White Supremacists Organizing Support on U.S. College Campuses

Posted Oct. 12, 2016

MP3 Interview with Shane Burley, co-author, along with Alexander Reid Ross, of the article, "How the Alt-Right is trying to create a 'safe space' for racism on college campuses,", conducted by Scott Harris


After Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appointed Stephen Bannon as his new campaign CEO on Aug. 17, many questions were asked about Bannon’s links with white supremacist, misogynist and anti-Semitic bloggers and groups who had found a safe haven on the popular right-wing Breitbart website, where he served as chairman. Bannon and others on the “alternative right,” or alt-right movement, have no consistent or officially recognized ideology, although commonly held views include opposition to multiculturalism, immigration and feminism – as well as an affinity for white nationalism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and nativism.

Democratic party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton responded to Bannon’s appointment to lead the Trump campaign with a speech in Reno, Nevada in late August, devoted to denouncing Trump’s divisive rhetoric appealing to the “emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.” In that speech, Clinton warned that a nationalist conservative fringe had taken over the Republican Party.

Stephen Bannon’s rise to lead a major party presidential campaign – and the alt-right’s support for Donald Trump has apparently emboldened and reinvigorated the right-wing movement. Now, there are reports that prominent figures and lesser known groups linked with the alt-right are attempting to cultivate interest and recruit new members on college and university campuses across the U.S. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with journalist Shane Burley, who discusses his investigation into the activities of the alt-right in academia, featured in the Oct. 6 Waging Nonviolence article, "How the Alt Right is trying to create a 'safe space' for racism on college campuses," co-written with Alexander Reid Ross. [Rush transcript.]

SHANE BURLEY: It was a new strategy for them. What they were trying to do was get under the radar of local anti-racist and anti-fascist organizations and be able to hold an event that essentially looks good to the media, looks good to passing students and looks good to their own media, really well. And so what they did was to announce it only about 48 hours in advance. It's from a few groups from which know, and some which we don't. The National Policy Institute's been around for a number of years. It's kind of taken the lead in terms of this new buzz around the "alt-right" and they recently put out a large press conference in Washington. They've been leading the large conferences. Richard Spencer is the director of it; he's been kind of out in front fielding interviews with reporters and things like that. And he's been kind of the person that's coined the term 'alt-right' and he's kind of been the ideological forefather for it.

But then there's this other identity group. Europa is really doing the groundwork at Berkeley and they have been, not just in California, but in Portland, Oregon, in the Midwest, there's been some posters in the East Coast, trying to create some kind of a nationalist, student group or fraternal organization – that's what they like to call it. It's going to be on college campuses and appeal to young people and it's trying to do what a lot of leftist groups do on campus, which is create kind of a campus culture.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Shane, what's been the reception on college campuses like Berkeley and the other universities and colleges that they've tried to organize rallies and recruit members.

SHANE BURLEY: It's been mixed. It hasn't been great, generally. They're not getting warm welcomes. Milo Yiannopoulos, who is well-known for writing at Breitbart, he's what you call an alt-light. He's more of a kind of diet alt-right. He kind of mainstreams their opinions without maybe having a lot of the baggage. You know, he's getting challenged at a lot of his university speaking events. But they are sold out, nonetheless. People like Richard Spencer, they're not well-known by the administration. A lot of student groups that would challenge them, don't really know the baggage he brings in. He's not waving a swastika; he's not coming in a Klan robe. So it's not quite as obvious. So there hasn't been a large-scale student movement against it. When it's made obvious, it's pretty roundly rejected.

What's gone over a little bit better is alt-right students going into Students for Trump organizations. And that's something we're seeing in a lot of college campuses. In Portland, Oregon, at Portland State University, Portland Students for Trump was alleged to be harassing multiracial student organizers, really kind of making a nasty culture on campus. And that's run by, you know, alt-right ideologues, young people that are on these alt-right message boards that are kind of creating a community amongst those. So that's been kind of their entry to get a little bit more high profile.

Groups like Identity Europa, it's really too new to tell. Anti-fascist organizations off-campus have been responding really strongly to them, but it's yet to see if they're going to have much of a pull on campus.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Shane, are these groups at all associated with violence, whether directed at particular students or student organizations anywhere in the country?

SHANE BURLEY: I think the answer is yes and no. Their entire existence, the entire way they function, their talking points, their messaging, their branding, all of it based around the idea of taking their white nationalist message and stripping away the connotation of violence. The problem is that white nationalism is the history of violence. It's completely inseparable. So take Nathan Damigo, who founded Identity Europa, and he will strip all forms of racial slurs and violent language out of his discourse. But of course, he served over five years in prison for violently attacking a Muslim man.

American Renaissance is a really great example, you know. They will talk about equal politics, this and that, but if you look at the crowd, you're going to have skinheads, you're going to have neo-Nazi party members, you're going to have Klansmen. Same is true of League of the South, Council of Conservative Citizens, all of these groups that have a kind of close, tight network and kind of make up a lot of the core of the alt-right. And at the same time, you have groups that have been associated with the alt-right. They're actively recruiting for that more violent undercurrent. So the Traditionalist Youth Network, which I mentioned in the article, recently held an event in Sacramento and they decided to invite Golden State Skinheads and Sacto Skins, two skinhead gangs, and ended up stabbing seven protesters. I think eight or nine people ended up in the hospital.

So this is something that happens relatively regularly when you have this long history of this kind of violent confrontation. It's really hard for the alt-right to completely reject it because it's something that's really baked into their ideological legacy.

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