Education

White supremacists step up recruiting on Florida campuses, group says

Oren Segal, Director of the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, speaks during a press conference to discuss the arrest of a St. Louis man charged in connection with bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers and the Anti-Defamation League national headquarters building in New York City, March 3, 2017 in New York City.
Oren Segal, Director of the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, speaks during a press conference to discuss the arrest of a St. Louis man charged in connection with bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers and the Anti-Defamation League national headquarters building in New York City, March 3, 2017 in New York City. Getty Images

White supremacist groups are stepping up efforts to recruit students on college campuses, including schools in Florida.

Since the academic year started in September, white supremacist groups have targeted college campuses 104 times with anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist fliers, posters and stickers, according to a report published Monday by the Anti-Defamation League. The incidents took place in 25 states, with eight incidents on Florida campuses.

One of the recruitment efforts occurred on Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus in mid-February, according to the report. Fliers promoting a white supremacist group called Identity Evropa were posted in various locations around campus, reading, “Our destiny is ours, serve your people.”

Other incidents were documented at the University of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, State College of Florida in Bradenton and the University of Central Florida and Valencia College East Campus in Orlando.

This level of recruitment on college campuses is unprecedented, said Oren Segal, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism and one of the authors of the report. “White supremacists have on occasion tried to attract younger people, but not on the level we’ve seen at this time and in the diversity of ways,” he said. “They view young people as bringing energy to a movement. What they want to do is try to recruit a new generation of people to carry on their messages to the future.”

White supremacists have been emboldened, they feel comfortable, they feel like their message is seeping into the mainstream.

Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism

Nationwide, the recruitment efforts have picked up since January, with 63 of the 104 incidents occurring over the past two months. While most involve fliers and posters, white supremacist groups have also made on-campus appearances and speeches. Other incidents documented in the report include a vendor selling shirts and albums with swastika symbols on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles and the distribution of Adolf Hitler Valentine’s Day cards reading “my love 4 u burns like 6,000 jews,” at Central Michigan University in Pleasant, Michigan.

“White supremacists have been emboldened, they feel comfortable, they feel like their message is seeping into the mainstream,” Segal said. “What this report does is highlight the repercussions of feeling that comfortable. One of those repercussions is feeling like you have a safe place to reach out to young people.”

It is not yet clear whether the recruitment efforts have led to an increase in hate crimes or other hate-motivated incidents on college campuses, Segal said. University administrators at the targeted campuses have spoken out against the fliers and posters following most of the incidents, he added. Florida Atlantic University could not immediately be reached for their response to the February incident.

Other groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have also tracked a surge in hate-motivated incidents coinciding with the election of President Donald Trump. Just last week, Jewish community centers in Florida and throughout the country faced a wave of bomb threats. But Segal said he sees a ray of hope amid the fear. “There is an opportunity for response and at the end of the day people will remember this time not just for hate fliers and bomb threats, but for what people did to stand up against it,” he said.

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