[Trigger warning: racism, anti-semitism, hate speech, homophobia, xenophobia, death threats.]
In November, a tide of hate-speech swept the country in the weeks immediately following the election of Donald Trump. College campuses seemed to be particularly affected by these incidents of what was usually race-based hatred.
Since then, President Trump’s own staff picks, which include the appointment of Steve Bannon to the positions of Assistant to the President and White House Chief Strategist, have brought into question the legitimacy of racist ideology within the U.S. government. Trump’s ties to Bannon have sparked questions of the President’s own racism, as Bannon was previously the Executive Chair of Breitbart, a far-right media outlet known for publishing xenophobic, anti-feminist and white nationalist content. Bannon told a reporter in August, speaking of Breitbart, that, “We’re the platform of the alt-right” (Mother Jones, “How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists,” 8.22.2016).
In an article by the Anti-Defamation League (which comes with the tags “Anti-Semitism in the U.S.” and “Extremism, Terror, and Bigotry”), it is explained that “though not every person who identifies with the Alt Right is a white supremacist, most are and ‘white identity’ is central to people in this milieu” (The Anti-Defamation League, “Alt Right: A Primer about the New White Supremacy”). The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes the group as the “The Alternative Right, commonly known as the AltRight, [which] is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization” (The Southern Poverty Law Center, “Alternative Right”).
Alt-Righters’ descriptions of themselves aren’t very far off. “The Alt-Right can be viewed as a reboot of the White Nationalist movement. This is a simplification, but one which is basically accurate,” reports The Daily Stormer. The word “extremism” doesn’t do The Stormer justice. It tags itself as “The World’s Most Goal-Oriented Republican Website,” and its name beckons the weekly publication Der Stürmer of Nazi Germany. Per Stormer, “The core concept of the movement, upon which all else is based, is that Whites are undergoing an extermination, via mass immigration into White countries which was enabled by a corrosive liberal ideology of White self-hatred, and that the Jews are at the center of this agenda” (The Daily Stormer, “A Normie’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” 8.31.2016).
Breitbart’s take is a bit less extreme, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. “There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence,” the website proclaimed. It continued, “The really interesting members of the alt-right though, and the most numerous, are the natural conservatives. They are perhaps psychologically inclined to be unsettled by threats to western culture from mass immigration and maybe by non-straight relationships” (Breitbart, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To The Alt-Right,” 3.29.2016).
In a Daily Wire article, Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor, summarized Bannon’s leadership of the site. “[Website founder] Andrew Breitbart despised racism. Truly despised it … With Bannon embracing Trump, all that changed. Now Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [former senior-editor] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers” (The Daily Wire, “I Know Trump’s New Campaign Chairman, Steve Bannon. Here’s What You Need To Know,” 11.13.2016). It would seem as though white supremacists across the nation, as well as at Vassar, have taken this to heart.
Recent incidents of disgusting hate-speech have plagued the Vassar community, prompting outrage on campus as well as the condemnation of administrators in light of the messages. The content of the messages speaks to the ideology of the alt-right.
The first occurred on Feb. 20. “Kill all the Blacks,” the message read, written on a wall in the library bathroom. It was followed by a Feb. 24 message: “Negro is the disease of our society,” was written on another library wall. It was followed by the words, “White Pride” and three swastikas.
The next message was written on a petition at the kiosk. On Feb. 28, the note was found. It said “Gay Love/Gay Hate,” and then, “Fuck Fags.”
There were personal threats as well. On Feb. 21, a student found a note, which was slid under their door. “Leave my country or I’ll kill you,” it read. The student also reported receiving an ominous call from a private number, a voice telling them, “I’ve been watching you.”
The recent hate speech is reminiscent of the incident of Nov. 22, when the words “Heil Trump,” paired with a swastika, were found in a restroom in Sanders Classroom.
Data suggests that hateful messages like these may be part of a national trend. As the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February, new hate groups have emerged in the wake of Trump’s presidency. According to the SPLC, the number of hate groups in the United States rose from 892 to 917 in 2016 (The Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Year in Hate and Extremism,” 2.15.2017).
Among these groups is Identity Evropa, which has been active since May 2016. Evropa focuses on posting flyers in public places, usually college campuses, with thinly-veiled white supremacist messages. Evropa’s flyers portray white marble statues such as Michelangelo’s David with statements like “Let’s Become Great Again,” “Our Destiny is Ours” and “Protect Your Heritage.” On its Twitter account, Evropa posts photos of the posted flyers, frequently using the hashtag “#FashTheCity,” an unambiguous reference to fascism.
Identity Evropa’s activities were the focus of an installment of the New York Times’s recently instated editorial column “This Week in Hate,” which catalogues hate crimes and harassment across the United States. The column has most recently covered islamophobic, anti-semetic and white supremacist hatred, including the shooting of two Indian immigrants in Kansas last month and threats against a Kentucky mosque. These incidents are only the most recent examples of the mounting hatred against minority groups since November’s election.
As the Vassar community comes to terms with its demons, the United States must address its own. One area in which Vassar has the advantage is the response of the administration. Unlike the Trump administration, both Vassar Interim President Jon Chenette and Dean of Students Adriana diBartolo have both condemned the hateful messages and taken steps to heal the community. While some students question the effectiveness and extent of such efforts, many consider them, if nothing more, a step in the right direction among the rising tide of hate speech nationwide.