I was walking one day last semester on the corner of Cecil B. Moore Avenue and 12th Street when I saw a sticker on a telephone pole, high out of my reach.
The smile I had just seconds before slid off my face when I recognized the symbol. I immediately felt unsafe, looking around to see if anyone else had seen it. I stared at it for a while, trying to think of a way I could reach it to tear it down or scribble over it, and found none. I was powerless.
It was a bright green Kekistani flag — the flag of an imaginary country created by the users of a 4chan politics board, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The flag is based on a lesser-known Nazi flag and has made appearances alongside the Confederate flag at alt-right and white supremacist gatherings, including the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, according to the SPLC.
White supremacist incidents, including the spreading of propaganda, doubled in 2019, reaching an all-time high for the nation, increasing by 85 percent in Pennsylvania and 250 percent in New Jersey, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
White supremacist rhetoric is spreading, and we need to learn how to better identify white supremacist symbols to protect those who are targeted by that rhetoric.
“This administration has given more of a pass to the views of nativists and the views of racists and antisemites and has sort of made it a little bit more acceptable for those viewpoints to kind of come out,” said Lila Corwin Berman, a professor of history and Jewish studies and director of Temple’s Feinstein Center for Jewish American History. “And then I think combined with that is a lot of alienation and disaffection that people — especially people who feel like they’re kind of left behind by our economy — feel and they have a desire for someone to blame.”
Nu’Rodney Prad, director of student engagement at the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership, said the internet provides a platform for this hateful messaging.
“I would attribute it more so to the internet and technology that has given people free reign,” Prad said. “Their true feelings they will say online as opposed to what they will say to someone’s face.”
White supremacist groups often use online platforms, like Discord, which allows for private group messaging, to organize around hateful topics and spread racist propaganda confidentially, Slate reported. Imageboards like 4chan allow users to share crude, offensive and blatantly racist content online without needing a username, granting users full anonymity, according to the ADL.
The internet is an amazing tool for political organizers, but white supremacists use it, too, and they use it well. So well, in fact, it’s often hard to recognize their talking points.
Online white supremacist groups often take innocuous things — like cartoon characters, in the case of Pepe the Frog — and attempt to rile up the left into decrying them, only to point out the seeming ridiculousness of the call-out, according to the ADL.
White supremacy is deeply rooted in this country’s institutions, and it hasn’t really gone away, said Diamante Ortiz, a senior political science major, and a diversity peer at IDEAL.
“I believe that institutions have been made in order to uphold those standards of whiteness, and capital really kind of reformed them and kind of restructured them, and from that we can see a lot of bigotry that has come from that,” Ortiz said.
In American politics, white supremacy has retreated to the shadows in some cases, operating in dog whistles that twists typical political discourse into hate, Vox reported.
White supremacist groups online employ similar tactics, using online posts to promote anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric, according to Media Matters for America, a non profit that monitors, analyzes and corrects misinformation in media.
Interacting with or trying to rebut a white supremacist online can sometimes lead to conflict and greater exposure to their views, which is why I don’t recommend trying to engage in debates with white supremacists.
White nationalist groups often use the internet to recruit young white men to share racist messaging through memes and videos, the New York Times reported.
In Aug. 2019, a young white male shared an anti-immigrant manifesto on 8chan less than an hour before opening fire on a Walmart in El Paso, killing 20 people and injuring 26 more, in a racially motivated attack, Slate reported. The author of the manifesto claimed to be inspired by a similar essay written by a young, white male who opened fire on a mosque in New Zealand.
The internet is being used to indoctrinate young men with white supremacist ideologies, and the repurcussions expand far beyond the digital sphere.
White supremacist activity has also surged on college campuses in recent years. Cases of white supremacist literature distribution more than doubled from 2018 to 2019, with cases in Pennsylvania increasing from 40 to 74 incidents in that same time period, according to the ADL.
Finding that Kekistani flag on campus was terrifying, but it wasn’t the first case of white supremacist behavior at Temple University within recent years.
In May 2017, flyers with slogans from a white nationalist group were found in bathrooms at Anderson and Gladfelter halls, The Temple News reported. It was the second instance of a white supremacist group advertising on campus in a month in a half.
At 13th and Montgomery streets, a group of demonstrators led by street preacher Aden Rusfeldt frequently protest against members of non-Christian religions and other marginalized groups, The Temple News further reported.
So, what can a student do if confronted with a white supremacist incident on campus?
If a student witnesses or is victim to an incident of racial violence, they should report the case to Campus Safety Services. If you’re not comfortable going to campus safety, IDEAL can work in partnership with the Title IX office and the Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance to advocate for you, Prad said.
If you find racist imagery, propaganda or rhetoric on campus or online by a member of the Temple community, you can either report the incident to Campus Safety Services or IDEAL, and the two groups will work together to address the situation from there, Prad said.
Despite the university’s closure, IDEAL has staff working remotely to help you, Prad said. IDEAL also offers a variety of virtual resources available during this time.
Next, check in on your friends and classmates. White supremacist incidents often make people of color feel isolated and unsafe, especially when it happens on their own campus, the Atlantic reported. Incidents of racist behavior or institutionalized white supremacy on college campuses can negatively affect the mental health of Black students, causing racial trauma, according to a 2019 report by the Center for American Progress.
“I think we essentially need solidarity,” Berman said.
Listen to minority students, support them and make sure you yourself feel safe in the process. Racism isn’t going to disappear, but we have the ability and the responsibility to call it out and report when we see it.