By KATE SELTZER
Approximately five stickers with slogans such as “better dead than red” and “reject poison” were found at the bell tower, near Jefferson Square and at the intersection of William Street and College Avenue, according to Michael Hall, chief of UMW Police. The propaganda, from a white nationalist group known as Patriot Front, was likely distributed sometime after 3 p.m. on Sunday, according to UMW Police.
Distribution of white supremacist literature on college campuses is part of a growing national trend. A total of 313 cases of white supremacist propaganda were documented in the 2018-2019 academic year, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.
“White supremacists have been actively targeting U.S. college campuses since January 2016, a practice that had failed to gain any real traction until the fall semester of that year,” the report read. “More than three years later, these propaganda efforts – including fliers, stickers and posters – continue to increase.”
“It occurs a couple of times a year on campuses nationwide. University of Richmond, just two weeks ago, had a similar thing happen there,” said Hall. “Two weeks ago, I told [Juliette Landphair, vice president for student affairs], I said ‘get ready, UMW is next.’ It runs in a cycle. It basically prepares us for it.”
Hall said he wanted to be mindful of students for whom incidents like these could be triggering, while at the same time not “playing into [Patriot Front’s] playbook.”
“I want to be supportive to those individuals, but I don’t want to give the knuckleheads a platform,” he said.
He also cautioned against using the label white supremacy.
“White supremacy is a drop word. What are we talking about? They could come back to you and say ‘I’m not white supremacist, I have this different view.’ We have to be careful what we label when we use labels,” said Hall.
Patriot Front is classified as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Police are unsure of whether the stickers were placed by a group or an individual, student or otherwise. According to Hall, one of the more recent incidents of sticker propaganda was conducted by one individual, who appeared on security footage. UMW Police communicates and shares information with other universities and law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve got a couple of leads, we’re still looking into those, but once those are exhausted, then that’s data that we have,” Hall said. “By sharing all this information, if something catastrophic happens, god forbid it does, we can link any of this information to support the crime that occurred.”
It is unclear what legal consequences a perpetrator, if caught, would face.
“People will say to me, ‘why don’t you charge them, Chief?’ What am I going to charge them with? It’s not a hate crime, it’s perceived as hate speech which is not illegal,” said Hall.
“It’s counterproductive to what ASPIRE is at University of Mary Washington, but it doesn’t negate the First Amendment.”