Colleges and universities nationwide, including in Texas, are seeing a growing number of instances of white supremacist groups recruiting on their campuses, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League.
The 2018-19 academic year marked the third consecutive year of growth in white supremacist campus recruiting across the country, according to the report. Nationwide, colleges and universities saw a 7% increase in such incidents during the ’18-19 academic year. That uptick comes on top of a massive 77% surge in instances of white supremacists recruiting on campuses during the previous academic year, the nonprofit reports.
Although Texas wasn't one of the national leaders in white supremacist recruiting — California led the way, followed by Kentucky and Oklahoma — the Lone Star State wasn't immune to the trend, says Cheryl Drazin, the nonprofit ADL's regional director for North Texas and Oklahoma. Statewide, Texas saw a modest uptick in incidents during the recent spring semester, she said.
The Texas incidents mostly involved white supremacist groups posting flyers or handing out leaflets on campus. During the 2018-19 academic year, members of the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front spread flyers and stickers on campus at Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, Tarrant County College, Brookhaven College, the University of Dallas' Irving campus, the University of Texas, Texas State University and Midwestern State University, according to ADL records. Their flyers bore slogans like "Reclaim America" and "Keep America American."
In September, members of a group calling itself the Daily Stormer Book Club distributed flyers at the University of North Texas with the assertion "Every time some anti-white, anti-America, anti-Freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it's Jews behind it." The group's members are followers of the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website that takes its name from Der Sturmer, an anti-Semitic propaganda newspaper that existed in Nazi Germany.
As a public university, UNT doesn't restrict white supremacist groups or any other outside organizations from handing out leaflets on campus, said Joanne Woodard, the university's vice president for institutional equity and diversity. The university can restrict the time, place and manner those groups do their recruiting, she said. The university also has requirements about where on campus flyers can be posted, she said.
In general, the university would only take action against a group if it does something that disrupts university operations, like impeding the flow of traffic or making so much noise that it interrupts classes. But if a group is peacefully standing on the sidewalk and handing out leaflets, the university isn't allowed to bar them from campus, no matter whether their message aligns with the university's values or not, Woodard said.
"That typically doesn't alarm the university," she said.
Although posting flyers and handing out leaflets on campus might seem like an old-fashioned approach for reaching tech-savvy college students, it has its advantages, Drazin says. White supremacist groups likely wouldn't have much luck getting their message to the students they're trying to reach if they relied only on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Posting flyers or handing out leaflets on campus puts that message in front of the eyes of thousands of students. It generates outrage, which attracts attention.
"It's been a really successful marketing tool for white supremacists," she said.
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White supremacist events on Texas' college campuses haven't always been so low-key. In December 2016, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer gave a speech at Texas A&M, prompting tension and occasional violence between white nationalists and protesters. During his speech, Spencer told a crowd of about 400 people in the Memorial Student Center that America "belongs to white people."
"Texas is a wonderful place to live and there are a lot of white men's bones in the ground to make that happen," he said. "This country does belong to white people — culturally, socially and politically."
The following year, in the wake of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalist organizer Preston Wiginton announced he planned to hold a second rally at Texas A&M on Sept. 11, with Spencer as a featured speaker. Wiginton announced the rally in a press release with the headline "Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M."
University officials canceled the rally, citing safety concerns after the bloodshed in Charlottesville.