When President Trump was inaugurated, on January 20, 2017, young Republicans at the University of California at Berkeley were gleefully anticipating the arrival of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Their invitation portrayed him as “a man who bathes in sheer and unmitigated awesomeness” — a description loaded with sophomoric giddiness.
The speech was cancelled because of violent protests. But for months after, the appearance of alt-right speakers at college campuses created similar campus spectacles.
Then came Charlottesville, Virginia.
On August 11-12, violent clashes over removing a statue of Robert E. Lee led to the hit-and-run death of protester Heather Heyer, and the injury of 19 others. The event, called Unite the Right, shocked the nation, and tore away any pretense that the alt-right was an intellectual or entertaining segment of conservative politics. It was now seen as part and parcel of a dangerous, right-wing movement that included Klansmen, white nationalists, white supremacists, anti-semites, neo-Nazis and militia — elements present in Charlottesville.
“It seems like what might have been a little in the shadows has come into full sun, and now it’s out there and exposed for everyone to see,” said Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators in an interview with the PBS Newshour, six days later.
The event sparked dozens of protests across the U.S. in support of diversity and tolerance.
While the alt-right was not a lead organizer of the Charlottesville rally, leaders like Richard Spencer and Matthew Heimbach participated and exploited the massive news coverage to announce new rallies and campus initiatives. As a result, colleges braced for more attacks.
Campuses enjoyed a ten-day lull, but then the number of hate-filled flyers on campuses picked up dramatically, according to an analysis by SPLC’s Intelligence Project. One flyer, distributed by the alt-right, at Arizona State University at the start of the fall semester, read, “Welcome to College White Boys and Girls.”
Since mid-August SPLC has recorded 117 campus flyer campaigns by white nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-black groups.
Energized by Charlottesville’s notoriety, these groups also resumed their campus recruiting efforts — behind the banner of freedom of speech. In many cases, campus Republican groups extended invitations.
The good news is that students were awakening to the threat of the far right, protesting speakers, reacting to hate incidents, holding faculty accountable for their beliefs and language, and holding rallies to promote tolerance and diversity.
If measured in air time, security costs and hours of debate, we can only conclude that our work to expose and blunt the impact of the alt-right has just begun.
You can help. Read our guide to the Alt Right. Follow its advice. Try to prevent events from getting off the ground. But if a racist speaker comes to your campus, do not confront the speaker. Instead, organize a counter event, or series of events, to put their propaganda in context, and spread the truth. And let us know of your efforts.
Written by Jim Carrier