University of Missouri says white supremacists are recruiting on campus

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University of Missouri officials on Wednesday warned students that white supremacists were attempting to recruit on campuses across the country.

“One of the core values of the University of Missouri is respect. As such, we are committed to fostering a community of inclusion,” officials wrote in a letter. “We are aware that white supremacist groups are recruiting on college campuses across the U.S. If you become aware of any activity that might violate university policies, please contact the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX […].”

University spokesman Christian Basi told ThinkProgress that officials had “become aware” of incidents at other schools and decided to issue the statement after finding a flyer on the MU campus. Basi noted that officials were not aware of any other attempts at recruitment, but felt the need to alert students regardless.

One faculty member said he was thought it was appropriate to take extra precautions.

“I haven’t seen or heard anything about white supremacist groups trying to recruit on Mizzou’s campus,” said Joshua Kranzberg, assistant professor of journalism. Still, he added, “As a faculty member, I work hard to make sure all of my students feel safe and comfortable. It’s the most important part of my job. Hate and division have no place here at Mizzou, and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my students safe.”

The University of Missouri has faced issues of this nature in the past. In 2015, the school officials warned that a number of Facebook pages called “White Student Union” had begun cropping up at various universities across the country, parading as legitimate student organizations. An MU-specific page, Mizzou White Student Union, featured “familiar MU columns towering over the Columbia campus green, a bronze Thomas Jefferson posed in a school garden, as well as a string of comments denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent MU student protests that set off a national push by students fighting for racial equality”, according to the Kansas City Star.

The Southern Poverty Law Center claimed at the time that the pages had been created by white supremacist groups looking to recruit MU students into their ranks.

“We are trying to find out who is behind them,” said Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “It could be a white supremacist group, students at the university or someone outside the university. …[It’s] definitely a racist response to anti-racist activity.”

A few weeks earlier, both New York University and the University of Illinois warned students of similar fake “White Student Union” pages claiming to be affiliated with their schools.

“There is no such organization as this at NYU, the Facebook page is using NYU’s logo illegally and without permission, and we have contacted Facebook to demand the NYU logo be removed,” NYU Director of Public Affairs Matt Nagel told the New York Daily News at the time. “We reject — and we call on others to reject — efforts such as this to derail or distort candid, thoughtful discourse on race.”

University of Illinois student Karen Olowu, a Black Students for Revolution organizer, told MSNBC that she wasn’t surprised the white supremacist pages existed.

“Historically, this happens when people of color gather to support themselves,” she said, referencing nationwide Black Lives Matter protests taking place at the time. “This group [was] formed to to terrorize us.”

The University of Missouri has a documented history of racist incidents that have kept officials on alert in recent years. In 2010, according to the school’s paper, The Maneater, freshman Sean Fitzgerald and senior Zachary Tucker were sentenced to two years unsupervised probation and 80 hours community service after the duo scattered cotton balls on the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center lawn. Prosecuting attorney Ryan Haigh said at the sentencing hearing that the act was “not your classic littering case” but something “far different” with obvious racist overtones.

In a September 2015 Facebook post, then-Student Government President Payton Head recounted an incident in which a group of white students in a pick-up truck yelled racial slurs at him. Protests erupted in the days that followed, after Head and other students claimed the school had not responded appropriately to Head’s concerns or the slew of other racist incidents he mentioned in his post, and by early November, student Jonathan Butler, had launched a hunger strike as well, demanding that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resign.

Wolfe announced his departure one week later.