Over the past week, anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic fliers have reportedly appeared on the Auburn campus, and this week a white nationalist website promoting an “Auburn White Student Union” has spread on social media.
The union is not an officially registered student organization, according an Auburn University release, which added that it finds the “views expressed in their materials reprehensible and unrepresentative of those of the university.”
Responding by email to questions from The Villager, the registrar of the domain, who goes by the pseudonym “Wyatt Mann,” a pun for “white man,” and the pen name of a cartoonist celebrated by white nationalists for his anti-Semitic and white supremacist drawings, said he is a former Auburn University student who graduated in 2016 and that he is responsible for putting up the fliers on campus.
“The final straw for me was how White people are told to walk on glass about race,” he said, adding that the union is “for people who want a ‘safe space’ to explore their White identity…” and that it “strives to treat other races with courtesy.”
University officials were first notified of the situation during the Board of Trustees meeting last Friday, according to Bobby Woodard, vice president and associate provost of Student Affairs, who spoke about the university’s response at a town hall on diversity and inclusion on Tuesday. He said the university contacted campus safety and the Auburn Police Division and started looking into the matter.
“We started researching who is this, what is this, what is their means, what is their method. That’s what we do to make sure campus is safe. That’s when we did notice that they are not an official registered student organization for the university,” Woodward said. “We try to find out is it tied to a professional organization versus a student on our campus. I cannot 100 percent tell you if that is true or not true because that’s hard to say.”
He added that the university believes the website was created in Florida.
The domain name appears to have been registered on April 2 through an online service provider that utilizes a proxy contact service, which provides a virtual office address in Lake Mary, Florida, an email address and a voicemail-only phone number.
Woodard said that senior administrators met Tuesday, and that Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president and associate provost of Inclusion and Diversity, crafted an email to the website’s creator.
“I talked about the fact that there are efforts nationwide that really seek to devalue and to deconstruct some of the diversity and inclusion efforts that are going on at universities,” said Clayton, paraphrasing the email at the town hall meeting, adding that there will be an additional response from the university. “And often they show up in the form of what we saw — an unauthorized entity using the institutional brand and leveraging that in a way that presents itself as being authentic to the institution but is not.”
She added that while this may be the first time it’s happened in Auburn, it’s the seventh or eighth time she’s seen it based on her experiences at other institutions.
“I think that some of that’s been done, and I think there’s more to do,” she said of the university's response. “I also think that it’s really important given the impact that I’ve seen this has on students in particular, particularly undergraduate students.”
The push for white student unions can be traced to Matthew Heimbach, who was able to secure an advisor and establish a club at Towson University a few years ago, according to Lecia Brooks, outreach director at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
He tried to frame it to black student unions, a false equivalency, said Brooks, adding, "When in fact it was promoting white nationalism."
She said after he chalked campus with “white pride” his advisor dropped him, and he was unable to secure another.
“Students started to post that they had white student unions, but these were not official student unions,” Brooks said. “I don’t know of any campus nationally that has an official white student union currently. It’s now a part of the larger push on behalf of white nationalists in directly recruiting students on college campuses."
When asked whether he planned to seek official university recognition for the Auburn White Student Union, the website creator said, "We may, but most of the people who are members or are interested in joining demand anonymity."
"It will take another decade or two for White Identity to become mainstream enough that ordinary people will put their names out openly," he added.
White nationalists, which have embraced the label Alt-Right, also have become more vocal with the campaign and election of President Donald Trump.
The creator of the website of the Auburn White Student Union declined to say whether he voted for Trump, but added that Trump "is the first mainstream candidate who legitimized the interests of White people in America."
"He did this by speaking out against globalists, financiers, neocons, and other people who betray America by controlling our politicians to evil ends,” he said. “Now, whether he did this out of sincere concern for White people or a cold calculation that he could win because White people were tired of fake conservatives like the Bushes is still unclear. He certainly has some bad advisors (e.g. Kushner) as well as great ones (e.g. Bannon). My image is ultimately intended to honor the people who support him — they're who this group is about, not about Trump himself."
Jared Kushner is the son-in-law and a senior advisor to Trump. Stephen Bannon is Trump's chief strategist and former chief executive of Breitbart News, which he described as "the platform for the Alt-Right" in 2016.