Does diversity in its broadest sense include white supremacists?
On the campus of Eastern Washington University in February this year, racist flyers appeared. A white supremacist group took credit. The university responded and students protested. Flyers from the same group now are appearing in the streets of Spokane and being put back up as fast as citizens can tear them down.
The group that posts these flyers, Identity Evropa, has propagandized Gonzaga University and University of Washington as well. It is making inroads in our campuses and towns. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Identity Evropa as a hate group. Washington is not the only state on the receiving end of such hateful attentions, and it’s not the only state where white nationalist groups are working to scatter seeds.
These groups operate from the shadows to perpetuate hate. They draw people in by deceitful means. Identity Evropa tries to make white supremacy an intellectual choice. The group pushes the bogus notion that white supremacy merits a space in civic discourse. Spokane citizens would do well to learn about and resist them. In 2010, the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church brought its anti-gay and anti-Semitic agenda to EWU. We protesters outnumbered them tenfold and effectively shut them down.
These groups have become visible in our nation lately, perhaps due to implicit sanction by inaction out of Washington, D.C. After the flyers at EWU were found and removed, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Shari Clarke asserted that EWU does not condone or tolerate hate speech.
At an academic conference in Coeur d’Alene a quarter-century ago, I encountered four Aryan Nations members. They dressed like street punks in leather jackets, high boots, patches, insignias and berets. They crashed the keynote speech and stood behind my seat. It was a sweaty stretch. The four men did their best to redirect conversation toward home schooling.
One of the four, Floyd Cochran, deserted that next year. His comrades had denied him his right to keep his cleft-palate child alive. His newborn needed to be trashed, they said, like a Plymouth fender with a factory flaw. For those cockeyed Aryans, the purity of the gene pool was at stake. Cochran later lectured around the nation against his former brethren.
Following my conference ordeal, the Aryans lost their toehold in the Northwest. A car carrying a mother and son backfired when it passed their compound at Hayden Lake. Armed guards mistook the backfiring for a gunshot. They pursued, shot at, and assaulted Victoria and Jason Keenan.
In the wake of that event, Morris Dees of the SPLC represented the Keenans and filed suit. He bankrupted the Aryan Nations. The “Reverend” Richard Butler, its leader, had to sell his house and scattered outbuildings to pay the damages. Butler died in 2005. The so-called world headquarters of our home-cooked white supremacists relocated to the Midwest.
One of the spearheads of Identity Evropa is a white nationalist and former Marine named Nathan Damigo. The 31-year-old’s name and face went viral last year when he punched female anti-fascist protester Emily Rose Marshall in the face on April 15. His supporters created memes to celebrate his “falcon punch.” Interviewed about the incident, after which no charges were filed, he crowed. Recruitment for Identify Evropa had “gone through the roof,” he said, since the inauguration of Donald Trump. He claimed his group had more than 450 members from dozens of college campuses.
These are some of the ideologies and tactics of Identity Evropa, whose flyers are appearing on our campuses and on the streets of Spokane. We have succeeded in routing their kind from the Inland Northwest before. We ought to be more proactive than we were in the face of the Aryan Nations.
Free speech has no place for racism and hate. Bigotry, homophobia and sexism need not be tolerated. Not in the Oval Office, not in Spokane or Cheney, and not on the campus of Eastern Washington University.
Paul Lindholdt is a professor of English at Eastern Washington University and editor of The Spokane River, published by the University of Washington Press this month.