White Supremacist Banner Hung Over Rivers Street on ASU Campus, Chancellor Releases Message

Published Wednesday, August 23, 2017 at 11:32 am

By Jesse Wood

On Monday evening, two white men hung a banner on the pedestrian crossing over Rivers Street on the campus of Appalachian State University that stated, “A New Dawn is Breaking, Rise and Get Active, Identity Evropa.”

This organization, Identity Evropa, “focuses on recruiting college-aged, white students in order to discuss ‘race realism’ and white interests, targeting disaffected young men by branding itself as a fraternity and social club,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white supremacist groups. 

According to Southern Poverty Law Center, Nathan Damigo, 30, a Cal State Stanislaus student, founded Identity Evropa in March 2016. A former marine corporal, Damigo “discovered his inner white nationalist by reading the work of Holocaust-denying ex-Klansman David Duke while serving five years for armed robbery,” according to SPLC. 

Identity Evropa was among the white supremacist groups that participated in the Charlottesville, Va. “Unite the Right” rally last week. Identity Evropa’s Twitter page tweeted out an image of the banner posted on the ASU campus on Tuesday.

The “Who Are We” page on the Identity Evropa website states: “We are a generation of awakened Europeans who have discovered that we are part of the great peoples, history, and civilization that flowed from the European continent. We reject the idea that our identities are mere abstractions to be deconstructed. We oppose those who would defame our history and rich cultural heritage. In a time when every other people are asserting their identity, without action, we will have no chance to resist our dispossession.” 

After the banner was displayed at about 8 p.m., it was removed by two other white men 20 minutes later, according to the university. Chancellor Sheri Everts noted in her message to the App State community that university police is “monitoring” the situation and no connections to recognized student organizations have been found so far.

She said that she’s spoken to many students, including several members of the Student Government Association (SGA), who “expressed they are hearing students’ outrage, fear and concern about our university being targeted as a potential recruiting ground by outside agitators.”

“It cannot be said too many times: we will not tolerate violence, discrimination, injustice and racism on Appalachian’s campus,” Everts said in her message, which can be read in its entirety below.

Dr. Paul Gates, a communication law professor at Appalachian State University and the university’s expert in free speech issues, said that this banner incident was similar to the chalking incident last year. Minorities used water to remove statements written in chalk on campus sidewalks that were “perceived to be harassing in nature and directed toward students of color,” according to this App State release

This nearly led to physical altercations and students worried about potential future harm. The ASU Board of Trustees and Faculty Senate ended up revising its policy related to chalked messages and passed a resolution supporting underrepresented students. 

At a free speech summit in March, Gates gave a speech advocating for the distinction between speech and action. 

“Action that is harmful and potentially harmful is punishable, but speech, even offensive ideas, are ideas and [the fact that] they offend somebody doesn’t make them prohibited,” Gates said. “They certainly are offensive. That’s clear, but the way to sort of summarize what I said in that speech, the way you counter offensive ideas is with good ideas. It’s an educational experience. This is a university after all. We should learn to handle issues as they come up. Students are only here for a short amount of time and then they are off in the world, and the world isn’t going to protect your feelings.

“The way to handle things is to prepare yourself while you are in college to oppose ideas that you find objectionable. It’s always good arguments that will counter bad arguments,” Gates said. “To some students I am going to look kind of conservative … There is a middle ground here, an obligation to accommodate rights of both parties and sides.” 

App State Police Chief Andy Stephenson didn’t respond to a message and multiple phone calls requesting comment on this incident on Wednesday morning.

Last year, interim ASU Police Chief Todd Corley released a statement following the chalking incident that stated, “University Police will always support your right to freedom of speech/expression when peaceful, respectful and lawful dialogue is displayed. We request all persons involved maintain respectful dialogue, respect others’ opinions and most of all respect one another, which is the true Appalachian way.”

On Wednesday evening, the SGA held an open discussion on the banner and The Appalachian, the college newspaper, covered the event. Check out there story here. 

The Watauga NAACP released a statement on Thursday that said, “Make no mistake, this was an act of hate. The banner was intended to intimidate and incite fear among the African-American, Jewish, LGBTQ, minority and immigrant student populations at the beginning of the school year.”

Watauga NAACP President Todd Carter also said that he had hoped for much stronger language from Chancellor Everts. 

“Call it what it is; hate speech. Those speaking it are white supremacists belonging to Neo-Nazi and White Nationalist groups. Semantics are crucial here. Boldly state that Appalachian State denounces white supremacy and intimidation through hate speech,” said Carter. “One statement belongs in a policy manual. The other statement tells Nazi hate groups that they are not welcome here. Which statement will make students feel like the University has their back?”


Chancellor Everts Message After Incident

Dear Members of the Appalachian Community,

[Monday] night, at approximately 8 p.m., two white men posted a banner reading, “A New Dawn is Breaking, Rise and Get Active, Identity Evropa” on the pedestrian bridge that crosses Rivers Street. Consistent with their actions across the United States, we believe posting this banner illustrated an intent to recruit members to Identity Evropa. Within 20 minutes, two other white men were seen removing the banner. University Police are monitoring the situation closely, and have found no connections with recognized student organizations thus far.

I want to emphasize there are many resources available that provide safety, care and concern assistance to members of our university community.

As many of us have seen in traditional media and in social media, college campuses are an attractive venue for provocative displays of speech. Like us, our colleagues across the country are struggling with this reality. As your administration works with students, faculty, staff and national organizations, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, we are keenly aware of the violence and hatred that has played out in cities and on college campuses across the country.

Appalachian is well-known in the state and region, and it is therefore possible that our campus will also become a venue for clashes of ideology.

It cannot be said too many times: we will not tolerate violence, discrimination, injustice and racism on Appalachian’s campus.

“What is the university doing?” This is an ever-present question, and one that bears serious consideration. Let’s begin with what the administration is doing:

  • Monitoring groups with a history of violence and their activity on or near our campus. Our primary responsibility is to maintain the safety of our community. Law enforcement – at local, state and national levels – have a heightened awareness for the potential for violence. Our University Police are committed to maintaining the safety of our entire community.
  • Working with faculty, staff and student groups to explore challenging issues. Defining the line between free speech and inciting violence is a daily occurrence, playing out across our nation. We are actively engaging in this work.
  • Helping students build resiliency. As educators, we must prepare our students for harsh realities, whether they occur on our campus or in life after Appalachian. We recognize this responsibility, and work to help our students develop skills to manage and address complicated societal issues.
  • Getting involved. University Police take a proactive approach to protecting the safety of our community. This means building and keeping trust with the members of our community. You will likely notice police officers working hard to get to know our students, faculty and staff. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs are working collaboratively to develop more, large-scale academic programs, panels and new initiatives dedicated to discussing the tough issues facing our society and thus, our campus. The Office of Equity Diversity and Compliance and the Chief Diversity Officer are working together to engage underrepresented populations in meetings and in small groups.
  • Keeping the compassion. Administrators hear the frustrations, the fear, the anger, and the concerns expressed by members of our community. We strive to understand and respond to each individual situation to support members of our community and prioritize safety.
  • Staying focused on our campus. We’re paying attention to what’s happening across the country, but we are staying focused on our campus. Outside groups and individuals who crave attention will not receive it at the expense of our students, faculty and staff. Our own community deserves our attention and our resources, and that’s where we will focus our energies.

How can you help?

Faculty and staff are on the front lines, working with students and helping them wrestle with complex societal issues every day. Your interactions with students are powerful and memorable. Every day, you bring with you the potential to help the next generation address problems in effective, interdisciplinary ways. Your expertise is key to keeping Appalachian safe – and giving our students the guidance and mentorship they require to know how to effect change, build relationships, challenge ideas constructively and develop sophisticated problem-solving skills.

  • Share your expertise. We’re sensitive to the intense demands on your time. That said, a university exists because of the work of faculty and staff. As you can dedicate time and energy, share your expertise with us, with your students, with one another. Classroom discussions, panel discussions, faculty and staff meetings are all important venues to share your expertise with your colleagues.
  • Ask for resources. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs look for ways to support opportunities for campus and community events, speakers, discussions and conferences.
  • Report incidents that concern you. We encourage taking a “better safe than sorry” approach to areas of concern, especially as they relate to matters of safety. Report things that concern you and they will be looked into. It is important to note, federal law does apply to student records, so it is possible you might not be aware of any follow up, but be assured it is taking place.
  • Focus on our collective responsibility to foster a community that is welcoming to all. Experts are available to help all of us navigate this challenge, and while we don’t have all the answers, our office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance and our Chief Diversity Officer, as well as experts in Student Affairs, are skilled at helping us all access tools and resources we can use to help understand varying perspectives and motivations.

Students, members of the administration and I have spoken with many students throughout the day. Several members of the Student Government Association (SGA) have expressed they are hearing students’ outrage, fear and concern about our university being targeted as a potential recruiting ground by outside agitators. SGA has agreed to continue sharing student voices with us. We will continue working with student leadership, and are dedicated to finding opportunities and venues to continue to hear and listen.

Let me close with an important emphasis. The safety of our community members is paramount. We are working to ensure your safety and security every day, and will continue to do so.

Sincerely,

/s/ Sheri N. Everts

Sheri N. Everts
Chancellor

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