On Monday afternoon, an Islamophobic poster with a chilling message was spotted at the Paul Robeson Center at Rutgers University. The poster states “Imagine a Muslim-Free America” and has contact information for a group called the American Vanguard. The poster featured an image of the Twin Towers, along with an American flag and an eagle holding a fasces in its talons.
Posting it outside The Paul Robeson Cultural Center made its threatening message even clearer. For those that don’t know, The Paul Robeson Cultural Center is recognized as the first Black cultural center on a U.S. college campus. The center offers programs, initiatives, and services that reflect the robust history, heritage and diversity of the African diaspora, according the school website. It also promotes intersectional social justice, and is often where the Rutgers Muslim Students Association holds their events. Some students and alumni, including Rowaida Abdelaziz, indicated that this is where they prayed as well.
The same day, The Statesman reported the same poster, along with other posters from the same organization inciting anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric, were posted at the University of Texas at Austin. Afterwards, a tweet was posted saying [sic] “@UTAustin got a visit from the American Vanguard last night. #MakeAmericaWhiteAgain”
University of Texas issued a (problematic) statement, saying “This morning, staff at The University of Texas at Austin discovered signs on the Student Activity Center, College of Liberal Arts and the Sanchez building containing political messages aimed at immigrants, minorities and Muslims. The signs, some of which were affixed with adhesive, are in the process of being removed. The university vigorously supports free speech, but posting signs of any nature on the outside of university buildings is not allowed under campus rules. Additionally, as per policy, only students and student organizations are allowed to post signage in approved spaces on campus. The campus is reserved for the use of students, faculty, staff and their invited guests. Any person coming onto campus damaging or defacing university property is subject to criminal prosecution.”
Instead of focusing on the imminent danger threat targeting their Muslim students, UT’s statement focused on the procedural rules for hanging signage, and damaging/defacing school property.
This is not the first time this group and its white supremacist propaganda posters have popped up on college campuses. There have been reports of flyers from the American Vanguard posted on campus at several colleges and universities in the past few months. According to NY Mag, posters were found at University of Maryland in December. By that point, posters were reported to be found at Emerson College, Purdue University, the University of Central Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
On January 29th, the University of North Texas was hit with the posters. The group boasted about it on Twitter.
On January 30th, it was reported that Rice University also had posters from the same organization posted on-campus, again, followed by Twitter boasting.
So…. what is the American Vanguard?
The American Vanguard is a white supremacist group guised as a patriotic nationalist movement that peddles the “white genocide” and “ethnic replacement” theory. They believe that diversity and inclusion will cause white people to cease existing. An excerpt of their manifesto on their website states:
“The White race will be a minority in the United States by 2044. It has been hammered into our heads that wholesale ethnic replacement is not only natural and good, but it is unstoppable. As we apply to colleges and enter the workforce, we see the corrupt System that has been forced on us, one that blatantly works against White Americans, the very race that built this country in the first place.
Faced with this grave situation, we have come to the realization that our struggle against the System can be nothing less than total. We fight for America, but this can never happen unless we win the hearts and minds of our fellow White youth. 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.”
The manifesto then ends with a quote from the Bible: “Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.” -Psalm 144
Several universities have responded to the poster, often citing the difficulties of balancing freedom of speech whilst condoning hate speech, and citing policies about outsiders posting on school property, such as UT’s statement.
A statement from the University of Maryland that was also dismissive of the targeted hate speech read “As an institution of higher education, we are 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.”
University of Central Florida’s vice president Maribeth Ehasz sent out a stronger statement via email to all students that condemned “any form of hate, discrimination and injustice.”
Ehasz was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as stating “As we ponder and discuss race, religion and other important topics, our opinions and beliefs will often differ. It is in this spirit that I encourage you to actively listen, engage in scholarly dialogue and demonstrate our shared commitment to respect for all Knights. I challenge you to demonstrate civility. Acts of hate and offensive behavior will not be tolerated.”
Update: The group responded to our chief of staff’s thread on Twitter with the following tweets, attempting to troll her, and failing to realize the implicitly violent message that their signage sends. One tweet even endorsed a “peaceful” cleansing,” stating “A homogeneous America can be created peacefully.”