White nationalist incidents require campus response

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COURTESY IMAGE/SUZANNE CLAVET

I venture into the cesspool of 4chan a few times a year, usually when white nationalism is on the rise. Whenever I see white supremacist posters on campus, or hear rumors of white nationalists organizing in Virginia, I do a quick search through the 4chan boards, looking for clues. Why? Because sometimes I find something relevant.

Last semester, I produced a video for The Flat Hat about hate speech on college campuses, in which we featured some white nationalist postings at the College of William and Mary. That particular video was not actually spurred by white nationalism, but rather by a set of homophobic flyers that threatened religious violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Those flyers were homemade, typed up using language I had never heard before, and emblazoned with skull and crossbones. After seeing an image of the flyers, I decided to google some of the phrases that stuck out to me as odd. Immediately, a post from 4chan popped up. It was the creator of the flyers, who admitted that he was a “far-right, traditional Catholic” student who created the flyers to “write down [his] thoughts in an open letter to the cucks and libtards of [his] generation.” He posted “verification images” of the flyer, one including his rosary lying on top, an allusion to his Catholicism.

When I found this post, I immediately sent it to WMPD. While 4chan’s anonymity’s hid the poster’s identity, it did prove that the flyers were made by a student, not some outsider like many were claiming. I got no response. I’m not sure if WMPD saw my email, even though I called in advance saying I sent them a tip. Maybe they saw it and deemed it unimportant. Either way, I was not aware of any action on their part.

As Flat Hat Online Editor, I made the tough decision to exclude the 4chan post from our hate speech video. At its core, it was an unsubstantiated claim made by an anonymous source on the internet. Despite the verification images, I couldn’t accuse anyone without hard evidence. This decision still weighs heavily on me, because I think my lack of action is partially to blame for the rise in white nationalist postings on campus. If I had spoken out more vehemently, maybe this wouldn’t keep happening. If I had kept calling WMPD, maybe they would have investigated further. My inaction mirrored the inaction of the administration, who swept the incident under the rug.

Earlier this month, students found white nationalist flyers posted on light poles around campus. Printed in black ink on plain paper, they had a simple message: “It’s ok to be white.” Potentially harmless, these flyers become more insidious when you dive beneath the surface. Once again, I looked to 4chan. The truth is, these flyers were part of a larger movement, started on 4chan, to camouflage white nationalist propaganda as “innocuous white pride.” As I read through pages of gag-inducing posts, I began to understand their intent. These flyers are meant to make you question yourself, to make you think, “white people are really being persecuted,” when nothing could be further from the truth. When students take them down, these white supremacists, munching on Doritos from behind their computer screens, can say “look at these triggered liberals,” or “so it’s NOT ok to be white?” as if they’re proving some kind of point.

Oftentimes, our gut reaction is to deny this behavior. When the last round of flyers went up, I kept hearing the same thing: we don’t know if it was a student, maybe it was a stranger passing through. The 4chan post I found proved that wrong. It was a member of the College community. And so is the person who put up this new wave of white nationalist posters. We have hatred on our campus, and we can’t stand idly by and let it happen.

In a world where white-supremacist violence is on the rise, failing to combat this ideology is frankly dangerous. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists were directly responsible for 39 deaths in 2018, up from 18 in 2017. These incidents show a sharp increase in violence due to white nationalist propaganda, the same type of messages we find on light poles on campus. Without investigating the source of this propaganda, without finding the student(s) responsible, we are creating the potential for violence on our campus.

To the administration: you disappoint me. Failing to act, given the circumstances, is cowardly and foolish. Either out of laziness or disregard for the seriousness of the situation, you took no action whatsoever in the face of blatant white-supremacist propaganda on campus. This is simply unacceptable and betrays a startling lack of awareness.

To students: don’t make my mistake. If you find something online, or hear something in person, don’t just report it, follow through and make sure something is done. I reported the 4chan post to WMPD, but as far as I know, nobody took any action. I should have gone further, perhaps alerting the campus Catholic community of the far-right ideology in their ranks and making sure it was addressed. If the administration or police refuse to act, we have the responsibility to root out hatred on our campus. If your friend makes a racist joke, don’t laugh it off. If you hear rumors of bigotry, don’t look the other way. If you see white supremacist flyers, tear them down. And maybe check 4chan to look for clues.

Email Claire Hogan at

cahogan@email.wm.edu.