In late October, early-rising students at Texas State University arrived on campus to see a large banner hanging from the university’s Alkek Library that read “America is a white nation.” The banner, roughly 10 feet wide by 3 feet tall, included the URL for the website of Patriot Front, a fascist, white nationalist group. It was hung in an area accessible by foot and faced the university’s main thoroughfare, or quad.
A student first alerted the library in a 5:27 a.m. tweet: “Hey @alkeklibrary you might wanna get to this ASAP.” University police removed the banner shortly afterward, but not before several other students reposted the images on social media. “Disgusting,” one student wrote on Twitter. “Can we please find out who these people are and remove them from our community?”
Alkek Library responded via Twitter, stating, “@TxStateUPD was notified and this was removed.” And shortly after, it publicly tweeted, “To anyone seeing things like this posted at #txst please notify @TxStateUPD so they can investigate.”
The banner was one of the latest, and to date the most brazen, in a chain of racist incidents that have hit this growing campus of 38,000 students in San Marcos, Texas, located midway between Austin and San Antonio. The incidents started the morning after 2016 presidential election 13 months ago and have taken the form of paper fliers, posterboard handbills, and a banner made from a bedsheet.
Generally the signs appear in a dozen or so places on campus, taped to the outsides of buildings, and campus police typically remove them early in the morning, before many students can see them. The fliers first appeared the morning after the 2016 presidential election and called for violence against university leaders who supported “diversity garbage.”
Subsequent fliers urged students to report illegal immigrants and included Homeland Security’s official seal. Still others included swastikas and a call for white men to “Join us in the struggle for global white supremacy.” And some of the later propaganda displayed fascist symbols and images of whites next to slogans such as “We have the right to exist!” and “This land is our land!” and “Stand up for a white America!”
The yearlong postering campaign, which has included calls for violence against faculty and other university leaders, has heightened tensions at Texas State, which sits just 45 miles away from Sutherland Springs, where a gunman walked into a church and killed 26 and injured 20 about six weeks ago. The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, who purchased his firearms legally, lived just 25 minutes down the road, in New Braunfels, and it set the community on edge.
“It would be disingenuous to say that nothing has changed, and that nobody ever thinks about the relationship between the fliers and the fact that students can carry guns now,” said Ben Reed, an English lecturer at the university.
After the Sutherland Springs killings, Reed did something he’d never done before: He locked his classroom door. “A student looked up and said, ‘What’s going on?’ and I said, ‘Nothing. You’re not locked in. You can leave whenever you want.’ But I was thinking, ‘Why not always lock the door?’”
Campus police have been investigating the racist incidents, and last week they appeared to get their most solid lead when they detained five white men they’d caught in the act in a university parking garage. The men admitted to posting racially charged handbills earlier that night. But to the frustration of students and activists on campus, they were issued criminal trespassing warnings and released.
The university has withheld the identities of the men, but university spokesman Matt Flores told VICE News “none of them were students.” “They were questioned and denied having anything to do with the previous incidents,” he said. Although the criminal trespass warnings come with no penalty, University Police Chief Jose Banales said they allow campus police to issue criminal citations if they return.
“The boundaries of what’s considered acceptable speech have now been blown up”
But the detentions were the first concrete clue to the origins of the racist material, which has roiled the students and faculty at this racially diverse campus in central Texas. “The boundaries of what’s considered acceptable speech have now been blown up,” said Texas State University’s Chief Diversity Officer Gilda Garcia. “I’ve just never experienced these kinds of hateful things being posted on college campuses.”
The incidents coincide with San Marcos’s rapid expansion; U.S. Census data indicate 25 percent population growth in the city since 2010. The rise in population has been driven mostly by college students, as Texas State has seen record enrollment numbers 18 out of the last 20 years. Demographically, the Texas State student body looks a lot like Texas: 47 percent of students are white, 36 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent African-American. About 52 percent of all students are racial or ethnic minorities.
Diversity, then, isn’t a mere buzzword at Texas State; it reflects the reality of the student body. But some believe that after a year of racist incidents on campus, that status is under threat. “I know for a fact some students dropped their enrollment status because of these incidents,” said Daniel Espindola, a Texas State student and vice president of the student group Jewish Bobcats. “These made Jewish people not want to come to Texas State.”
Some students are taking matters into their own hands. Shortly after the Patriot Front banner was found on the library, an even larger banner was hung in the same location that read “America is NOT a white nation.” University police removed the banner, but photographs of it surfaced on Twitter.
Students and faculty have expressed frustration with the campus police for not conducting a more aggressive investigation of the racist incidents. Others have criticized university president Denise Trauth for not condemning the fliers quickly or aggressively enough.
For example: After the first fliers appeared on campus the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, Trauth issued this statement the next afternoon: “I am aware of reports of action and expression that have occurred on campus following the recent elections in our country. While we encourage individuals in our university community to openly express their thoughts, we expect them to do so with civility and in a collegial manner that reflects Texas State’s core values.”
“It reads as empty to most students, because we don't really see much being done on campus to find the culprits or to make us safer,” said Monica Richerson, a Texas State senior and president of Lambda, a chartered group for LGBTQ students and their allies. “Maybe a lot of that is going on behind the scenes, but we have no idea if it is.”
”These are people doing this under the cover of darkness”
Spokesman Flores defended the university’s response: “It’s important to remember that this is on a national scale, not just related to this university. These are people doing this under the cover of darkness.”
Flores said that the university has stepped up patrols since the initial fliers went up a year ago, and they’ve contracted with a private vendor to add additional night security patrols.
But the imbroglio became fodder for Fox News when the campus newspaper published a response to the fliers blasting the concept of “whiteness,” titled “Your DNA is an abomination” and written by junior philosophy major Rudy Martinez.
Fox News host Greg Gutfeld held it up as campus speech run amok, making the story about an ill-considered response to the fliers, rather than the fliers themselves. “What’s surprising is that in an era of safe spaces where students get out of classes or ban speeches because of diverse opinions and words, a college paper in Texas can run this savage call to violence,” he said.
Shortly after the publication of Martinez’s article, Denise Trauth issued a statement condemning it, and the president of the student government demanded that the editors resign and moved to pull funding for the paper.
Separately, Martinez’s public Facebook page exploded with death threats and a doxing campaign. Facebook users published personal information including his cell phone number, current and previous addresses, and place of business, which was a local coffee shop. Although some members of the community supported Martinez, others bombarded the coffee shop on social media threatening to boycott, and Martinez was promptly fired.
“I never claimed to hate white people”
Reached by VICE News, Martinez said he was compelled to write the essay “as a retort to the fascist and white nationalist presence on campus [because] the administration hasn’t been doing anything.”
“I never claimed to hate white people,” he said, insisting that the article does not espouse that idea.
Martinez’s personal information was also listed on one of the fliers found posted on campus and in the possession of the five men detained last week. “It said he hates whites, and if you want to tell him how you feel about it, here’s how you can reach him,” Flores said. The sign displayed Martinez’s address, cell number, and other personal information.
Also on that particular handbill was a reference to bloodandsoil.org, the same URL listed on the Patriot Front fliers and on the library banner.
Patriot Front’s sparse website features fascist imagery in the style of Cold War–era propaganda and acts as an online recruitment center, aimed at young men. It includes a 3,000-word “American Fascist Manifesto.” It lists no way to contact the group, just an application to join, which urges applicants to provide only their first names.
An earlier flier calling for white men to “Take your country back!” displayed the name of the group Vanguard America, an SPLC-designated hate group associated with Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally, and led by New Mexico native Dillon Hopper.
Reached by VICE News via email, Hopper denied personal involvement in putting up his group’s fliers at Texas State University but said they were presumably the work of some followers who act on their own. “More than likely one of my totally autonomous state entities took it upon themselves to carry forth in this endeavor,” he wrote.
Hopper also distanced himself from the fliers’ white supremacist content. VICE News asked if the fliers represented a recruitment campaign or were simply meant to shock. Hopper said they “are not meant to recruit.”
“If you believe that posters and fliers telling white people (whom are most affected by our nation’s current opioid epidemic) that they should be proud of themselves and stop using opioids is shocking, then you need to review your own values,” he wrote.
VICE News then sent him a photograph of one of the fliers, which said, “Globalist traitors are destroying your race and heritage through open borders, affirmative action, and Marxist political correctness. Take a stand!!!” and asked if that meant taking a stand against opioid use. Hopper declined to respond.
Texas State University is not the only university getting hit with white supremacist fliers; since March 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked 329 fliering incidents on 241 different college campuses in the U.S. But this fact provides little comfort to the community of Texas State.
What those numbers don’t show is that a concerted effort by a small number of people can have a big effect on campuses across the country — which is sort of the point. By sowing division at some of the most diverse environments we as a nation have, the fliers are achieving their desired effect: to spread fear and rage among students and faculty, who now wonder which among them are the white supremacists.