By Talia Richman and Ellie Silverman
Two University of Maryland students posted the American Vanguard fliers, among others, found on the campus earlier this week, according to an administrator of the white nationalist group’s Twitter account.
Members of the campus community were shaken after University Police received reports about white nationalist posters, advertising American Vanguard among other like-minded groups, on campus three times in three days.
The Diamondback attempted to contact members of American Vanguard, which was named on many of the fliers, via Twitter. The man answering direct messages from the official American Vanguard Twitter account listed on the group’s website did not reveal his name because he was worried his family would receive death threats.
He self-identified as the leader of the group and confirmed American Vanguard worked with The Right Stuff, another white nationalist blog, referenced on a poster glued to a Lee Building door Tuesday.
Through Twitter messages, the man told The Diamondback there are more than 100 American Vanguard members nationwide, including four in the College Park area, two of whom are university students. When asked for the names of the students, the man declined and wrote “they are keeping a low profile for now.”
The students were the ones who hung the posters, the man wrote, which included phrases such as “Defending your people is a social duty not an anti-social crime” and “We have a right to exist,” written above two Aryan-looking people.
American Vanguard’s manifesto states, “We want to be at the forefront of the reawakening of White racial consciousness. In order to do this, we must be willing to fight.”
“This does not represent the university in any form or any fashion,” said Chief Diversity Officer Kumea Shorter-Gooden, whose office is in Marie Mount Hall, one of the buildings where posters were hung. “I had hoped that these were outsiders. It’s even more troubling to know this may have been committed by people on our campus.”
Asked for further verification that the man responding to Twitter messages was a leader of American Vanguard, the man sent The Diamondback a private link to a page on the group’s website, titled “proof.” He also complied with The Diamondback’s request that the website text be changed to specific words.
The man told The Diamondback that the goal of hanging up the posters was “free publicity,” and the group plans to continue spreading its message on the campus.
“We simply said that white people have a right to exist, and caused an insane reaction,” he wrote. “We’ve gotten on the news and people are wondering why white survival is equated to white supremacy.”
In response to the American Vanguard posters, UMD Socialists put up 24 posters stating, “American Vanguard is a white supremacist hate group” on campus buildings Wednesday night.
“We don’t tolerate racism on our campus. We don’t tolerate hate speech on our campus,” read the posters. “We don’t tolerate hate groups on our campus. Racists are not welcome here.”
In a statement, the group wrote its posters were a show of “solidarity with communities of color on this campus, and to make it crystal clear that we will not stand by and allow white supremacists to recruit and spread their bile on our campus.”
University Police Chief David Mitchell said the incidents are labeled as vandalism, but are being investigated as hate bias incidents, meaning detectives were assigned to the cases immediately and they were made a priority.
“Looking at poster in and of itself, the words, that’s not a prosecutable crime. That’s free speech. But just because it’s free doesn’t make it right,” Mitchell said. “But the poster is a symbol of what this group of people, American Vanguard, stands for. And when you go to their manifesto and you see all this stuff on the web, I think it’s pretty clear what they stand for. And like the Klan, they stand for it anonymously.”
Mitchell said University Police have increased patrols around McKeldin Mall, and other areas where the posters were reported. He’s also met with members of the LGBTQ community and people from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss the incidents.
“Fear is very real when people see this,” Mitchell said. “Any action that causes fear, anxiety and anger on this campus is in my mind unwelcome.”
Shorter-Gooden said the language on the posters “absolutely is hate speech.”
“It’s clearly hateful, disturbing, denigrating speech that can create a chilling environment and sends a message to people from marginalized groups – like people of color, like LGBT people, Jews, Muslims, undocumented people, immigrants – that they are not welcome,” she said. “Anything that conveys to students that they are not welcome can have an impact on their capacity to excel and to thrive. “
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn said the views espoused by American Vanguard do not represent the values of the city. About 43 percent of the fall 2016 undergraduate class are minorities and within Prince George’s County in July 2015, less than 27 percent of the population is white.
“It’s distressing to me that people could see that on the campus, and it will make people feel unwelcome in College Park, when that’s not the way the vast majority of our community feels,” Wojahn said. “As a city, I want us to do our best to counter opinions like that, to show College Park is a welcoming place and we value the contributions of all residents regardless of race.”
Oral Communication Center Director Jade Olson said she was “heartened” to see the UMD Socialists response fliers categorize the white nationalist posters as hate speech. But Olson was concerned she did not receive any sort of alert from the campus about the American Vanguard posters.
“I would’ve liked to be informed that a hateful act was committed,” Olson said. “A lot of people whose workplaces were where they were posted did not feel safe or comfortable. As a person who works in the Skinner Building, I wanted a response from the university that it happened.”
University Police spokeswoman Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said email and text alerts are only sent out to the campus community when there is an imminent or ongoing risk. University Police did, however, send a notification to some university administrators, including Shorter-Gooden.
Jewish Student Union President Sam Fishman said while he does not believe the posters represent hate speech, “I know enough about their movement to know their intentions are not good.” Maryland Hillel’s website states there are about 5,000 Jewish undergraduate students on campus.
“White nationalists historically have been racist, anti-semitic, xenophobic, the list goes on,” he said. “As a representative of the Jewish community, of course I condemn their movement and ideology.
“They’re allowed to voice their opinions, but it’s vital for students to craft their own arguments and defeat them with words.”
Hillel released a statement acknowledging that while freedom of speech and expression are “central” to all Americans, “expression that crosses over into hate or bias speech is deeply disturbing.”
American Vanguard has “intentionally” focused its efforts on young people at college campuses, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In a Dec. 7 statement, the ADL wrote similar posters were found at Purdue University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Arkansas and Emerson College, among others.
Other posters found on the group website include calls to “Reclaim America,” and urge people to “Imagine a Muslim-free America.”
Emerson’s president Lee Pelton emailed the campus community to rail against the group’s “racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” The Boston Globe reported.
University President Wallace Loh did not release a personal statement reacting to the posters, however the university issued a general response Wednesday: “As an institution of higher education, the University of Maryland is committed to the core values of diversity and inclusiveness and do not condone hateful language. Even in difficult situations, however, we honor the right to freedom of speech.”
Senior staff writer Naomi Grant contributed to this report.