Arizona State. Penn State. Cornell. Rutgers. Elizabethtown. George Mason. Fairfax. James Madison. U-Va. Stockton. Shenandoah. Lynchburg. Boston College. Oklahoma State. Millersville. Texas State.
These are just a handful of the colleges and universities that have been papered with white nationalist recruitment flyers, stickers and posters since the fall semester began. The Anti-Defamation League has counted 79 such incidents — up from a reported nine incidents at this time last year. The five states hit the hardest are Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, California and Florida. It is, said the ADL’s Doron Erickson, “a dramatic increase.”
The distributor of the majority of the flyers is the relatively new white supremacist group Identity Evropa, now helmed by Reading, Pa. native Elliott Kline, who calls himself Eli Mosely.
The group bills itself as “a fraternal organization for people of European heritage located in the United States that participates in community building and civic engagement.” Such engagement includes marching in Charlottesville and chanting, “You will not replace us,” which IE uses as a slogan.
IE is more subtle in its messaging than some other like-minded groups, avoiding blatantly racist and anti-Semitic language. In fact, its website — whose homepage has a vista that looks like a Games of Thrones backdrop — features Jewish-penned books in its education section, despite the fact that the group does not permit Jewish membership.
The flyers are part of IE’s Project Siege, which targets college campuses. The posters are deliberately vague, with slogans like, “Our Generation, Our Future, Our Last Chance.”
“They’re really messages to encourage young white students to more fully embrace whiteness and white privilege,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Lecia Brooks. “They’re the group that pushes the false narrative of white genocide, so they say that when you see multiculturalism or you see diversity and inclusion, that really means white genocide and white folks are being dispossessed.”
It’s a message that’s resonated with other white supremacist groups.
“Vanguard America … saw [IE’s] success and are following suit,” Brooks said. “Their flyers are a little more pointed, leaning more toward neo-Nazi.”
Other groups, such as Patriot Front, have joined the campus-specific effort as well.
Propaganda flyering is hardly a new strategy for groups such as these. Residential areas recently papered with racist flyers include Frederick; Montgomery County, Pa.; and several towns in Connecticut.
But what’s happening now at colleges and universities is a little different, demonstrating an emphasis on the recruitment of young people rather than the promulgation of racist messages. And the effort is broad based, having hit at least 173 campuses across 40 states in the past year.
Said SPLC’s Brooks: “They’re just blanketing the whole country.”
“What distinguishes this is that this is an affirmative announced campaign by some groups to target college campuses because they believe they can disrupt those campuses and have far more impact there than their action actually entails,” Erickson said.
It’s a strategy with two goals, he added: to disrupt and intimidate, and to gain new members.
Determining whether the strategy is working is not easy for external groups like SPLC and ADL.
But Nancy Baron-Baer, the ADL regional director for Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware, said, “We would maintain that the flyering, by and large, is not successful.” At the same time, she said, “It is a very simple way to get your name out.”
And with a social media push that features photos of posted flyers under the hashtag ProjectSiege, the flyering campaign promotes visibility and manipulates perception.
“It creates this sense that they’re everywhere and are a real group,” Brooks said.
“Obviously they believe in the strategy,” Erickson said, “because the activity is increasing.”
Jesse Myers, a spokesman for Identity Evropa, explained in an email how the organization sees the campus agenda.
“Posters demonstrate our presence on university campuses, and photographs then circulate on social media which reach a potentially much larger audience,” he said. “While anti-white administrators might condemn us, we showcase an alternative perspective to young people of European heritage who are inundated with only cultural marxist [sic] perspectives on campus.
We then attract higher-quality prospective members to our organization, as they see our reach growing.”
Part of the visibility comes from media coverage of campus flyers. This begs the obvious question: Should the media provide such coverage? Or is that part of the problem?
Brooks has mixed feelings about that: “When Identity Evropa or Vanguard America gets a news report, every time flyers are found, it also kind of boosts their profile,” she said. “Unless it’s a swastika or direct threats, I don’t think they should get the attention that they’re getting.”
Brooks recommends that universities endeavor to handle the matter internally, spurring campus conversation rather than headlines.
Erickson has a slightly different take: “Media has an independent responsibility to report the facts and what is going on. We believe that exposure of this activity ultimately informs people and enables people to come up with strategies to find an appropriate response.”
Finding an appropriate response as a university administration is a challenge, too, because white supremacist groups will often target schools that place a significant public focus on inclusion. Brooks points to American University, which grappled with a number of racist incidents in the spring, as an example.
“They have really been aggressive in countering that,” she said, “so these groups come back. So it could be an indication that you’re doing the right thing.”
The right thing definitely includes engagement and conversation, the experts say. The entire University of Massachusetts system, Brooks said, has an anti-racism campaign, with banners and posters everywhere. “Their own campaign … minimizes and negates the power of the little flyers that Identity Evropa put out.”
The ADL maintains a strong focus nationwide on campus education as well.
“What we suggest when flyerings occur,” Baron-Baer said, “is that the university administration immediately not try to hide what has occurred but come out with a strong statement that protects the right to freedom of speech but very early, very adamantly states how abhorrent the message is. We also suggest that the university make sure they are doing sufficient work on diversity and inclusion. That may mean they’re doing more work through their resident assistants in the dorms or in certain classes or by providing speakers who might deliver a message that’s very different from the horrid kind of message we see in these flyers.”
At the same time, Brooks said, attention must also be paid to the students who are being targeted for recruitment.
“Although colleges have done a really great job with diversity inclusion, white male straight Christians don’t feel a part of that,” Brooks said, “so they have to find a way to bring everybody in the community under that umbrella of diversity inclusion.
“Mostly it reads ‘people of color or religious minorities or LGBT folks,’ so they have to be more intentional; otherwise, they continue to have a vulnerable group. And they are vulnerable.”
Liz Spikol is an editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media.