U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander addressed the upcoming Confederate monument rally planned for Fort Sanders in Knoxville. Alexander fielded questions from the media on Rainbow Falls Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park August. 25, 2017.
Steve Ahillen/News Sentinel
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Two days before white supremacists gather for a conference an hour to the west, fliers advocating one white nationalist group were removed from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville after they were found in violation of campus policy.
“The most precious possession you have in the world is your own people,” the fliers read. They include the cog and pitchfork symbol associated with the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist group.
The fliers were posted in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building and were removed Thursday because they were found to be in violation of the campus’ literature distribution policy, university spokeswoman Karen Simsen said.
The policy requires any posted literature to be affiliated with a student organization or on-campus department. It does not say anything about hate speech or restricting the types of messages that can be distributed or posted.
► Friday: Air Force Academy head tells racists to ‘get out’ after prep school incident
► Wednesday: Confederate flags, cotton found on American University campus
The fliers were removed because no one from the university appeared to have posted them and no affiliation was included in the material, Simsen said in email.
“I can’t speculate on the ‘what ifs,’ but we have a process for evaluating materials (that are compliant with our literature distribution policy) while ensuring that we uphold the First Amendment,” Simsen said in response to a question about whether hate speech propaganda would be allowed to be distributed if it met the affiliation requirements.
“Campuses — and young people — are prime recruitment targets, in part because they are still figuring out who they are and what they believe.”
Anti-Defamation League civil-rights organization
The incident comes as the role of free speech on college campuses is being debated nationwide, and as universities are grappling with a rise in hate speech incidents.
The issue came to the forefront following a deadly protest Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va., where hundreds of white supremacists gathered that day and the night before near the University of Virginia campus to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Even before the Charlottesville protest, the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and racism, reported an increase in hate speech incidents following the Donald Trump’s election as president.
The league reported that Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign cycle emboldened white nationalists and led to increases in conflict on college campuses.
“Campuses — and young people — are prime recruitment targets, in part because they are still figuring out who they are and what they believe,” the league said in a July statement. “Extremists also undoubtedly see value in recruiting a new generation that will carry the movement for years to come.”
White supremacists from Stormfront, an online forum of more than 330,000 members, say they will be in Crossville, Tenn., this weekend for a two-day conference replacing what had been billed earlier as their annual Great Smoky Mountains Summit. Matthew Heimbach, a Traditionalist Worker Party leader who reportedly ordered his followers to push down police barricades in Charlottesville, had said he would be attending the Crossville gathering.
► Sept. 4: White supremacist files lawsuit against Michigan State
► Sept. 1: Statue of first Ku Klux Klan leader stays in Tennessee Capitol
On Tuesday, 10 Confederate flag posters with an accompanying cotton stalk were found displayed throughout the campus of American University in the District of Columbia, coinciding with a campus discussion on the future of a new Antiracist Research and Policy Center.
Kitty Stryker, a speaker that the student group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness of Tennessee (SEAT) brought to UT’s campus in Knoxville, said she saw seven or eight white nationalist fliers Tuesday night in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building.
► Aug. 28: Oldest white supremacist site, stormfront.org, shut down
► Aug. 19: Church rebukes white supremacy but can’t ignore white privilege
“As someone who goes to protests a lot in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., I recognized the pitchfork icon immediately and pulled the poster down,” Stryker said in an email.
“One of the SEAT organizers saw me and asked what was going on, so I showed her and said, ‘This is Nazi propaganda. It’s all down the hallway. Can we take them down?’ So, we did.”
Follow Rachel Ohm on Twitter: @rachel_ohm
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