PANDEMIC BAD ENOUGH? THROW IN A RETURN OF HATE GROUPS: CHAPMAN’S THREATENING BUT UNSURPRISING PRESENCE

Patriot Front flyers which targeted the Chapman community in 2019, reappeared at the start of the Fall 2020 semester. Photo courtesy of Panther News photo editor Kali Hoffman.
Patriot Front flyers which targeted the Chapman community in 2019, reappeared at the start of the Fall 2020 semester. Photo courtesy of Panther News photo editor Kali Hoffman.

Chapman may be trying for more diversity, but it’s still slap in the middle of Orange County. Which means students still have to put up with the haters.

Stickers promoting the Patriot Front, a white supremacist splinter group of the Vanguard America group, showed up on Chapman’s campus this September. In an email on Sep. 8, President Daniele Struppa informed the community of the reappearance of Patriot Front stickers – posted around the Orange Community near Chapman’s campus.

Yes, Chapman is concerned. But according to the Chief of Public Safety Randy Burba, no updates on a person of interest.

“Yes I have dealt with racism before,” said Samantha Jimenez, junior business administration major and current president of the LatinX club, “but never this bold and in my face. I thought college was a place with open-minded people not a place were white supremacists can roam free.”

The Patriot Front’s stickers on campus are a scary reminder of its threatening presence.
But doing something about it isn’t always easy. 

“We have shared the incidents of stickers on our campus and they have had some stickers on city property, as you know,” said Chief Burba. “We share that information [with the city of Orange] and they would have jurisdiction for investigating city property and we would work together on stickers on our property.,” said Burba.

This has happened before. 

Patriot Front stickers and posters showed up on Chapman’s campus right before the fall 2019 fall term. In an email on Sept. 16, 2019,  the office of the Provost informed the community of the Patriot Front’s activity before the start of the semester and the group’s continued activity. 

Students want to know why their school is being targeted by hate groups.

Sociology Professor Pete Simi, who specializes in the study of hate groups.

Chapman sociology professor Pete Simi, who specializes in hate groups, wrote in an email:

“CU has experienced repeated incidents on campus related to racism including the student who was filmed shouting racist and homophobic comments prior to class and many others. These incidents are like magnets for white supremacist groups because they tell these groups that the environment was to be ripe for recruitment and already have pockets of existing sentiments on campus that align or potentially align with the [Patriot Front’s] worldview.”

Elton Ortiz, former president of the LatinX club,  fears the Patriot Front’s stickers on campus may serve to “radicalize white conservatives at Chapman in an attempt to turn them into white nationalist supporters.”

But Orange County — and the city of Orange — has a long history of white supremacy.

Brad Geagley’s book, A Compassionate Presence describes the experience of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, establishing a convent in Orange in 1922. 

 “… Orange County bigots were more overt in their hatreds. Parts of Santa Ana were nasty little hotbeds of rightwing extremism, home to the Ku Klux Klan among others,” wrote Geagley.

So 88 years later, the Patriot front is nothing new.

White supremacist groups have been active in Olde Towne Orange for quite some time, said Simi. After recognizing Orange County’s history of white supremacy, the stickers are only the tip of a much larger iceberg, said Simi.

“The PF follow a long tradition of white supremacist groups who try to appear as simply ‘patriotic’ ‘nationalist’ groups concerned about ‘defending America’” – in fact, PF is quite simply a hate group that vilifies anyone they consider an ‘enemy of the white race,’ said Simi. 

Tensions may well rise during an election year. Racist hate groups like Proud Boys took heart when their hero, Donald Trump, declared on national television: “Stand back, but stand by.” It’s already the group’s published motto.

But COVID-19 may be the haters’ enemy.

“It’s hard to say given the virtual nature of campus life at the moment,” Simi said. “Last year (pre-COVID), I was deeply concerned about the fall semester in the run up to the election but with online classes, the chances of problems on campus seem pretty well diminished.”

However, in an election year, Simi felt that Chapman needs to prepare itself if classes resume in the spring, for a tenser climate.

Especially if Donald Trump is re-elected. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center identified two hate groups active in the neighboring city of Anaheim, including the Proud Boys.

Ortiz was president of the LatinX club last year when the Patriot Front first showed up on campus, specifically targeting the La Frontera The Border series and LatinX heritage month. He feels that Chapman failed to inform the LatinX club of the Patriot Front targeting LatinX events nor share what steps Chapman was taking to combat the hate group. 

“We received zero communications from the dean of students, provost, or president about the stickers targeting our community’s events. We found out the same way everyone did, days later on social media,” said Ortiz. 

Current president of the LatinX club Samantha Jimenez agreed that Chapman failed to communicate with the community about Patriot Front incidents.

“I went to the town hall meeting with Dean Price after it happened and I called him on his shit. I told him that it is crazy to me that when the power shuts off on campus on a random ass building the whole campus will get an email, but when they find white supremacy stickers it takes them forever to address it,” said Jimenez. 

A problem is: Does publicity just fuel the hate groups’ interest?

“Regarding the Patriot Front stickers,” said Dean of Students Jerry Price, “ in fall 2019 we originally were advised that issuing a campus-wide email might just generate the attention the group was seeking, and thus encourage them to continue placing the stickers. After hearing student feedback, we subsequently have determined that the presence of Patriot Front stickers on campus meets the criteria for a prompt, campus-wide announcement, and have done so since.”

Minority students often feel like a tokenized voice of reason and source of education on issues of race. “Obviously, we can prevent it by educating other students,” said Jimenez. “But we shouldn’t have to. People of color are not supposed to be teaching everyone else about issues we face and what is right and wrong. It is exhausting having to constantly have to educate white people. I am at college to learn, not to teach you how to be woke. Also as a school, we should work on it. This is an issue that students shouldn’t have to address.” 

Simi argued that the Chapman community’s greatest weapon against hate groups is mobilization. 

“Create the kind of environment that is antithetical to what groups like the PF promote,” said Simi. “Doing so may attract even more attention from groups like the PF but ultimately a broad-based affirmative mobilization designed to recreate the campus environment in an unabashedly anti-racist, social justice image is the only way to confront and overcome white supremacy.” 

 

Community members can report bias incidents to CAIR-LA’s Civil Rights Department at (714) 776-1177 or by filling out a report here

 

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