White nationalists on the UMass campus

Enough is enough

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White nationalists on the UMass campus

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Joseph Keady, Collegian Contributer

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On Nov. 7, the University of Massachusetts was targeted for intimidation and propagandizing by the white nationalist organization, Identity Evropa. It was not the first time the group left a mark here, and it most likely will not be the last.

The group was founded in early 2016 as an extension of leader Nathan Damigo’s prior work leading a nationwide fascist youth organization. In the fall of 2016, Identity Evropa began a campaign called Project Siege, placing posters and stickers on public streets and, in particular, college campuses. People in the organization then take photos of their work and broadcast them on social media. The organization’s interest in college campuses is rooted in its belief that it can capitalize on white male resentment amid a broader right-wing campaign to brand higher education as a site of radical indoctrination and intolerance.

In one example, a far-right website marketed as a watchdog for “Marxist” academics recently published a reporton an anti-fascist demonstration on our campus (which is not linked here to avoid bringing attention to their website). That report included an unlabeled photo, one that was not taken at UMass. The report also claimed that Graduate Employee Organization representatives failed to respond to a request for comment, without mentioning that this request was sent by email only an hour and a half before the article was published.

Identity Evropa has not produced much literature to articulate its vision explicitly. It opts to outsource its intellectual labor to a list of suggested, mostly pseudo-scientific, readings and instead produces slick banners, posters and stickers that feature decontextualized images and vacuous slogans. Like many widespread advertising campaigns, its objective is not to sell its product to every person who sees an ad. The organization instead aims to create a sense of inevitability and ubiquity. It provokes fear by demonstrating that it can go anywhere it chooses and remain anonymous.

In Sept. 2017, members of Identity Evropa were so brazen as to organize and participate in a torchlight march through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia only a month after the fatal Unite the Right rally, reopening wounds that were still all too fresh. They ran away before the community could respond, but the stunt earned them social capital through the endless reproducibility of online images.

As an organization, Identity Evropa claims to be nonviolent, but this is belied by their own history. Damigo spent five years in prison for the armed robbery of a cab driver he “thought was Iraqi” and attained internet celebrity status in early 2017 when he was filmed punching a 19 year-old woman in the face during a demonstration in Berkeley, California. Richard Spencer has named him as a leading organizer of the Unite the Right rally. After Damigo stepped down, in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, he was replaced by Elliott Kline. Kline publicly goes by the name Eli Mosley — to honor the late British fascist Oswald Mosley. Kline has also claimed that he fought in Iraq — indeed, he has bragged about the joy he took in killing Muslims — but he was disgraced earlier this year when a New York Timesreporter discoveredthat, during his six years in the Army Reserves, he never left Pennsylvania.

The current leader, Patrick Casey, also came to prominence using a pseudonym (Reinhard Wolff),and he was a correspondent for a prominent white nationalist online media outfit. Casey could have chosen any name for himself, but he picked a conspicuously German one — one that conjures images of both Reinhard Heydrich, the “butcher of Prague” and a leading architect of the Holocaust, and a litany of wolf-related images and metaphors deployed by the Nazi regime and those who would seek to invoke it in the ensuing decades.

Adherents to Identity Evropa are apparently angry that white men are not reflexively given the respect that they are ostensibly due. They feel that they have been made to apologize too long for past sins, and yet they cannot seem to resist the urge to reproduce those sins and claim them for their own — torchlight marches reminiscent of the early Nazi era, a might-is-right morality toward their political rivals, claiming the names of well-known historical fascists as their own and more. They tout “Europeanness” as an inherent virtue, yet their vision of Europe and its history is both narrow and bleak.

As a student of German and Spanish literature, I can only respond by saying that they have misremembered or deliberately forgotten. I know too much about the courage and the sacrifices that have gone into past European efforts to combat similar fascist ideologies. As an Irish citizen — as someone whose recent family history is checkered with war, prison, emigration and murder in the wake of centuries of colonization by another European country — I can only say that the Identity Evropa worldview is as heartless as it is ahistorical. A German friend of mine likes to invoke a history of Zivilcouragein confronting inherently violent ideologies. To that end, we can look to the Spanish anti-fascists of the 1930s for a proper response: ¡No pasarán!

Joseph Keady is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]