When Amirius Clinton saw white nationalist flyers at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb last fall, he said he was scared. The signs posted around the campus an hour west of Chicago had simple messages: One just featured the name of the group – Identity Evropa — while another read, “Action, Leadership, Identity” with photos of young white men.
Although lacking some of the inflammatory language of white nationalist groups, the posters created a “state of emergency” in the black community on campus, said Clinton, a senior who studies political science and is president of the campus NAACP.
“It was just alarming because we didn’t think that type of rhetoric would be exploited so easily and heavily on campus,” he said.
In response, the university’s acting president, Lisa Freeman, released a statement saying the university would take down the posters and was committed to maintaining both free speech and safety on campus.
Incidents of white supremacist propaganda found on college campuses more than tripled in 2017 from the year before, according to a January report from the Anti-Defamation League, a group dedicated to fighting hate, especially anti-Semitism. Of 2017’s 346 incidents, 158 were the work of Identity Evropa, the ADL report said.
Identity Evropa members were by far the most prolific activists, but they were not the only ones. Patriot Front and Vanguard America, which ADL senior investigative researcher Carla Hill said used to be the same group before they split, each spread posters around campuses 46 times. The Right Stuff (13 incidents), Atomwaffen Division (10 incidents), Daily Stormer (6 incidents), American Renaissance (5 incidents) and Traditionalist Workers Party (4 incidents) also put out their messages on campuses multiple times.
Identity Evropa’s messaging differs from past and some present groups because it doesn’t label itself as white supremacist.
“We are not supremacists because we do not believe that White people should rule over non-White people. We are ethno-pluralists: We believe that all ethnic and racial groups should have somewhere in the world to call home,” CEO Patrick Casey said in an email.
Groups like the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which seek to identify hate groups and protect against them, disagree.
“If you want to have a white ethno-state without minorities and people who have religions and persuasions different than yours, you are a white supremacist,” Hill said.
Identity Evropa seeks to “create a better world for people of European heritage” by rejecting diversity, equality and multiculturalism, Casey said.
Its poster campaign, which mainly targets state universities because their public status makes invoking free speech laws easier, helps recruit members and spread the group’s “identitarian” ideas, he said.
According to pictures from Identiy Evropa’s Twitter page, the posters vary in message from promoting white identity and heritage to denouncing “sanctuary cities,” which do not actively try to identify undocumented immigrants or turn them over to federal authorities.
The group was founded in 2016 by Nathan Damigo, who had previously been arrested for robbing a man who he believed was Iraqi at gunpoint. Identity Evropa claims to achieve its goals through nonviolent means, but Damigo, serving as Identity Evropa’s leader at the time, punched an anti-fascist protester in the face.
The group tries to make its message more attractive by avoiding labels like “racist” or “Klansman,” said Southern Poverty Law Center Outreach Director Lecia Brooks.
“It’s what we call hate moving into the mainstream and then it becoming normalized because they just look like clean-cut white guys. They don’t look scary,” she said.
Identity Evropa’s members chanted their slogan, “You will not replace us,” at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed by a white extremist who drove a car into a crowd of people.
The group has about 1,000 members and between 10 and 30 percent of those engage in “activism,” Casey said. It only accepts members of “European, non-Semitic heritage.”
Students are not always happy with the way their universities respond to Identity Evropa’s activities. When a Pennsylvania State University student tweeted that students there worried that the university would not act after flyers were posted on its campus, the university responded on Twitter that “Penn State supports the right to free speech even when we may strongly disagree with the opinions expressed.”
This led junior Seun Babalola to create a petition asking the university to denounce the group and prevent it from putting posters on campus; 822 people signed it.
A day after the petition was posted online, Penn State President Eric J. Barron released a statement that read in part: “While hate groups may post their flyers, their ideas will never take root here. What they stand for is contrary to what it means to be members of the Penn State community and the human community.”
But Identity Evropa’s Casey said taking down the posters doesn’t matter – the message was delivered.
“We take pictures of the flyers immediately after placing them, which are then posted on social media,” he said.