Smile Politely

White Nationalism: The threat and the remedy

As members of the American Jewish community, Bend the Arc: CU is appalled at the placement of a noose in an elevator at Allen Hall on the University of Illinois campus. And you should be, too. We have spent the last three months educating the Champaign-Urbana community, which includes the University of Illinois staff and students, about the threat of white nationalism to our community and how to respond to any level of hate crime. We have spearheaded a new coalition of partners who, like us, are threatened by white nationalists, whose stated aim is to build a white ethno-state.

Three weeks ago it was a noose, in August it was fliers in downtown Urbana, and in June it was a sign on North Prospect spewing hatred toward Muslims. Before that it was swastikas in dorms and hallways. Unless you are a straight, white, Christian male, you are in small or large ways the target of the new breed of white nationalists who are using the internet to indoctrinate children as young as 11 into their hate groups.

Considering that this new breed of white nationalists brags about using the internet to indoctrinate children as young as 11, Bend the Arc: CU has made it a top priority to spread the word that white nationalism is a threat to Champaign-Urbana and this country. We recently hosted a forum featuring representatives from four targeted communities who spoke about how they had personally been impacted by white nationalist ideology. Those who attended came because they were genuinely concerned about the rise of hate in this country, yet some of them were overheard saying they had no idea about white nationalism before our forum. Awareness is always key to understanding and empathy. 

So, what is white nationalism? Why is it a danger to our community and country? As Susan Lubeck, Bend the Arc’s former national organizer, told the forum, it is an organized social movement that wants to create a white ethno-state. It is implicitly violent because the only way their plan can be achieved is through expulsion or murder.

And it affects our community every day if you’re not perceived to be “white.” Another of our speakers, a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who lives in Champaign-Urbana, told how routine trips to the store can result in strangers confronting her and her son to yell at them for speaking Spanish to each other rather than English. Even worse, a recent bike ride turned frightening when a motorcyclist pulled alongside her to spew hate speech in her face.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, white extremist propaganda surged by almost 60 percent on Midwestern college campuses during the last academic year alone. Of all the states in the ADL’s Midwest region, white supremacist flyers and stickers were most prevalent in Illinois.

If you’re in doubt, here’s a run-down of hate from just the past two years in Champaign-Urbana alone:

  •  April 2016: an African-American employee finds a noose on a work table. The perpetrator is identified and fired. 
  •  February 3, 2017: residents of Central Illinois communities find Ku Klux Klan recruitment flyers on their porches or driveways.
  •  November 16, 2017: the local chapter of Turning Point USA, which boasts a large membership at the U of I, repeatedly heckles U of I PhD candidate Tariq Khan, a U.S. Air Force veteran, father, and organizer, during a speech at an anti-fascist rally. They sue Khan because he pushed back when he was shoved by them. This is the same group that proudly held a “Hate Speech is Free Speech” event the same day as the Christchurch mosque shooting.

By the way, Turning Point USA apparently has a high school outreach program. Recruiters are responsible for 1500 internet contacts each month to try to entice young people to join their ranks. A former leader of this organization, Candace Owens, owns the quote, “Hitler was an ‘okay’ leader until he tried to take his message global.”

  • November 2018: Identity Evropa, now called American Identity Movement, takes credit for scrawling a swastika in the tunnel connecting the chemistry buildings at the U of I while canvassing on campus. The American Identity Movement is a neo-Nazi, white supremacist organization established in March 2016 and identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. An Indiana Navy veteran who is a member proudly posted photos of himself to a Twitter account as he pasted flyers around Campustown. More swastikas are found in December, but the perpetrators could not be identified.
  • January and June 2019: Patriot Front, also considered a hate group by the SPLC, affixes more than 200 flyers around campus. Their white nationalist message? “We conquered this country, and it belongs to us.” 
  • August 2019: Flyers in plastic bags touting a series of white nationalist websites are thrown into yards in Champaign.

When the most recent noose incident happened, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. The noose perpetrator has been caught. He is a 19-year-old U of I student who barely thought twice about committing this crime. According to police, he was turned in by his girlfriend only because of what a ruckus it caused on social media. The act of turning a rope into a noose will always be seen as an act of violence because its intention is to threaten and frighten people. While this is aimed at the black community, we should also remember the effect a noose will have on families whose loved ones took their own lives by hanging. There is nothing innocent about this student’s action.

At a minimum, the perpetrator is in desperate need of many hours of education about the effects of white supremacy and white nationalism and many hours of community service in the African-American communuty. It is just as important for this young man to continue community service with the Jewish, immigrant, Latinx, Native American, and LGBTQ communities because what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Never again means never again.

Diane Ore lives in Champaign. She is the chair of Bend the Arc: CU. Bend the Arc Jewish Action focuses solely on issues in the United States that affect the American Jewish community. It is currently working to fight white nationalism and racism in all its forms, and to support threatened immigrant communities.

Photo from Patriot Front’s Twitter page

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