The appearance of five stickers bearing slogans of a white supremacist group across the University of Richmond campus prompted strong reactions from the UR community.
A Twitter account representing the group, Patriot Front, posted photographs of four of the stickers on Saturday, Aug. 24, during upperclassmen move-in weekend.
All four photographs featured easily identifiable UR scenery, such as Westhampton Lake and Weinstein Hall, in their backgrounds.
By Aug. 25, Patriot Front activists had placed more stickers in Henrico County and at Reynolds Community College in Richmond, according to the group’s Twitter page.
That same day, a member of the UR campus community alerted the University Police Department, said URPD chief David McCoy, at which point the stickers on UR's campus were removed.
In an email to the university community late in the afternoon of Aug. 26, university president Ronald A. Crutcher condemned the stickers’ presence, writing that the stickers carried “divisive and repugnant messages.” He added that the stickers had been removed and destroyed.
“At UR, we are creating a community of care and intellect,” Crutcher wrote, opting not to name the group in his email. “We also remain firmly dedicated to fostering a campus community that is safe and welcoming for people of all backgrounds, experiences, and identities.”
The university responded quickly and appropriately in denouncing the anonymous perpetrators, Carthene Bazemore-Walker, an assistant dean in the School of Arts and Sciences who focuses on diversity and inclusivity efforts, wrote in an email statement to The Collegian.
"Like many other members of UR’s community, I was troubled and outraged that a white nationalist hate group had spread its propaganda on our campus," she said.
Senior Miranda Barbosa, the president of UR’s Solidarity Organization for Latinx Students, said Crutcher’s email did not do enough to address the incident.
Although Barbosa said that immediately removing the stickers had been the right decision, she criticized Crutcher’s choice to withhold information about Patriot Front in his email, calling it a "paternalistic message" that pretended to know what was best for students.
She added that Crutcher had not outlined any action that would be taken in the future, such as increased surveillance by campus police.
Sophomore Morgan Deckert appreciated how Crutcher both acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and refused to name the group, saying she thought his statement would help prevent future incidents.
Students and faculty members also had comments regarding the stickers' relation to campus free speech, a hotly debated topic at UR in recent years.
"Bigoted, hate-filled speech that targets marginalized communities should not be confused with protected free speech," Bazemore-Walker said.
Senior Aquila Maliyekkal, speaker of the Richmond College Student Government Association, said he thought UR had acted well within its rights as a private institution in taking down the stickers. He added that no student organization invited Patriot Front to campus as far as he was aware.
Nonetheless, Maliyekkal said his ideal free speech code would allow almost any sort of speech on campus outside of those that can be constitutionally suppressed, such as true threats and defamation.
“Does that mean I want students to espouse white supremacy on campus? Absolutely not,” Maliyekkal said. “But it does mean that if students subscribe to that ideology, the best way to undercut it is to dismantle it ideologically and publicly instead of letting it fester and grow among people who may feel disaffected or resentful.”
Barbosa said she believed that the stickers constituted racist and hateful speech, and that calls for free speech often came from those “who have always had a voice that has been heard above all others.”
The stickers’ appearance on campus coincided with the anonymous distribution of flyers promoting the Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a separate white nationalist group, at homes in Henrico’s Glen Allen community.
Henrico County manager John Vithoulkas and Henrico NAACP chapter president Rai Beasley denounced the flyers’ presence during a joint news conference last Tuesday afternoon, according to NBC12.
Patriot Front, an offshoot of white supremacist group Vanguard America, gained notoriety for its distribution of racist and anti-Semitic propaganda on college campuses across the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Although Twitter suspended Vanguard America’s account in late 2017 as part of a larger crackdown on extremist pages after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, it appears that at least one group claiming to be Patriot Front continues to operate on the platform.
McCoy said he believed all of the stickers on UR's campus had been removed, but he acknowledged that it would be difficult to say for certain.
“We keep checking,” he said. “It’s not that difficult to sneak around and pop up a sticker. We encourage people, if they see something, to report it to us or report it to Facilities."
McCoy cited the presence of both the Bias Resource Team and the Making Excellence Inclusive committees as well as Crutcher’s response as examples of UR's existing initiatives to fight these types of incidents.
URPD had been working with law enforcement partners across the region, including the Commonwealth’s Attorney, to determine what could be done in response to the anonymous postings, McCoy said. Potential legal repercussions for the culprit of the sticker incident would depend on the outcome of the investigation.
“We can only base [the legal repercussions] on the actions that we know have occurred,” he said. “We know the intent and we know the reasons for why it was done, but we still have to look at the fact of how it was done.”
Because the incident had not yet been deemed a criminal offense, URPD’s online crime log did not mention the stickers, McCoy wrote in a follow-up email response.
URPD’s investigation was ongoing, McCoy said.
Contact opinions editor Riley Blake at firstname.lastname@example.org.