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A New Kind of Threat on College Campuses


Normally, our blog for this time of year is devoted to warning college students and their parents about the dangers of binge drinking and sexual assault on college campuses. Although those are obviously still real dangers, a new threat has emerged in recent years that college administrators—and students—must grapple with: the rise of alt-right and white supremacist groups at universities. After the tragic events at Charlottesville, VA, and the proximity of the Unite The Right march to the University of Virginia, college officials are bracing themselves for what may be a year of walking that very difficult line between free speech and hate speech. The former is protected by the U.S. Constitution; the latter is not when it incites violence.

Why are college campuses being targeted by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups? They represent and uphold the very values that the alt-right detests: multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance. Universities protect free speech. Publicly-funded universities in particular cannot prohibit free speech, no matter how much they might disagree with its content. Therefore, universities are soft targets for the alt-right, and are being exploited effectively by its members.


Richard Spencer, the head of the alt-right movement and the person credited with coining the term “alt-right,” has scheduled a speaking tour of college campuses since President’s Trump’s election in November 2016. Spencer spoke at Texas A&M University in December 2016, where the school’s military roots and ties to alumni who fought and died fighting Nazis in WWII created a huge backlash. The University has recently cancelled a “White Lives Matter” rally planned for September of this year due to concerns about violence in the wake of Charlottesville.

Spencer sought a speaking engagement at Auburn University, which at first denied him a venue. Cameron Padgett, a 23 year old senior at Georgia State University, successfully sued for Spencer’s right to speak at Auburn, and he did so in April of this year. However, the University of Florida has denied Spencer’s request to rent space on campus for a September event. A court challenge is likely to follow.


Speaking events are not the only way in which college campuses are being targeted. A few years ago Matthew Heimbach started a group called the White Student Union at Towson University in Maryland. Heimbach is the leader of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party. Now 26 years old and out of college, other students run four of the White Student Union’s chapters. These groups have been known to write messages such as “white pride” on sidewalks of college campuses, and to distribute racist pamphlets.

Flyers and pamphlets are, in fact, another alt-right tactic being used on college campuses. Some members of alt-right groups hack into college library and administration printers, and print out posters with swastikas and white supremacist messages. The 2016-2017 school year saw racist flyers on college campuses at an unprecedented level according to the Anti-Defamation League.


In order to avoid the violence that led to the tragic events in Charlottesville, VA, and to avoid scenes like the march at the University of Virginia, experts advise meeting with people associated with alt-right groups before rallies or speakers are scheduled and present. Reaching out to the groups, if possible, through public meetings, online forums, and even newsletters may serve to raise awareness about the potential for harm to the university community such rallies and speakers may cause. Such efforts will hopefully educate people about the multicultural and diverse nature of the college campus. Education is what a university is about, after all.


If you or someone you know has been injured in a rally or demonstration, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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