Is a major state university going to let radical groups silence a legitimate college organization and drive it off campus through a campaign of violence and intimidation?
That is just one of the important questions raised by the most recent incident involving the UNC-Chapel Hill student organization Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) and a coalition of radical leftist groups. Some of the radicals are connected to the school, such as the UNC chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), while others are community-based and have no affiliation with UNC.
According to a Raleigh News & Observer report last week, anonymous flyers appeared on the Chapel Hill campus that provided the name, photograph, phone number, and home address of the YWC’s faculty advisor, emeritus professor Elliot Cramer. The flyers asked, “Why is your professor supporting white supremacy?"
Nikhil Patel, the current YWC president, perceived an implied threat in the flyer. It was not the first time that the radicals used this approach to intimidate the YWC. At a YWC event in April that was violently disrupted by radicals, they directed the following chant at YWC members and in particular, last year’s YWC president, Riley Matheson: "Against racists, we will fight. We know where you sleep at night."
After Patel informed Cramer of the potential threat posed by the flyer, Cramer jokingly replied in an email that "I have a Colt .45, and I know how to use it.” It was a tongue-in-cheek play on a statement made by Matheson when he was again threatened at a second event last April (explained below). He also sent the email to school chancellor Holden Thorp and Haley Koch, a radical leader arrested at an earlier meeting.
Thorp responded by asking for Cramer’s resignation as the group’s advisor, calling the retired professor’s comments “highly inappropriate and not consistent with the civil discourse we are trying to achieve." While his decisions about the YWC’s ongoing difficulties with the radicals have generally been good, this time the chancellor appears to have made a serious error. Cramer was merely making a joke, and joking aside, commenting that he was prepared to defend himself in his own home should a potential threat turn out to be real. Making such a statement is fully within his rights.
Because of Cramer’s resignation, the YWF now has 30 days to find another faculty sponsor or cease to be a campus organization. And the radicals have a reason to believe their aggressive tactics are working.
The anonymous flyer is part of a long series of events in which radicals have been openly trying to intimidate the YWC since at least last April. At that time, they successfully disturbed a campus appearance by former U.S. Congressman and anti-illegal immigration spokesman Tom Tancredo (invited by the YWC). Violence erupted when protestors tried to surge into an already overcrowded lecture room, and campus police were forced to use pepper spray to push them back. Tancredo left the podium when protestors outside the building broke a window in the lecture hall.
After Tancredo left, the protestors continued to rally for about an hour. This is when they chanted the chilling threat at Riley Matheson. An SDS spokesman who helped to organize the protest said that the SDS would continue to target Youth for Western Civilization, “if the group continues to invite people like Tom Tancredo, who espouses a philosophy of hate.”
Koch, a Morehead-Cain scholar now in her senior year, was arrested for disorderly conduct for her part in the disturbance.
Several weeks later, Virgil Goode, a former U.S. Congressman from Virginia who also speaks out against illegal immigration, was brought to campus by the YWF. Protestors again tried to disrupt the event, only their numbers were fewer and the campus police were quicker to react to disturbances. Goode managed to complete his talk despite many interruptions, and six protestors, all non-students, were arrested for disorderly conduct.
After the speech, one protestor shouted at Matheson, "We know where you live." Matheson responded, "Anybody who is interested in exploring becoming a member of Youth for Western Civilization can contact me by email, or just stop by my house...since you already know where I live. I've got a 12-gauge."
During the summer, the controversy caused the YWC’s faculty advisor, Chris Clemens, to withdraw. Clemens also cited negative publicity about the YWC’s national organization. (This stems from the fact that Marcus Epstein, a college friend of the founder, Kevin DeAnna, was falsely identified as a co-founder of the YWC. Epstein, who was never involved with the YWC, was convicted of an assault during which he used a racial slur.) According to the Daily Tar Heel, “Clemens stressed he is not passing judgment on the national organization itself but the reputation it has gained in the community. ‘It’s a magnet for the radical left to come shut you down,’ he said.” Cramer stepped into the breach to enable YWF to have a continued presence on campus.
The trial for Koch and the six protestors arrested at the Goode speech took place on September 14. Two chose to plead guilty, one was declared not guilty, and the others (including Koch) had the charges dropped. According to the News & Observer, a protest was held outside the courthouse in support of the defendants, during which participants “called on Thorp to dissolve Youth for Western Civilization.”
Still, the court’s leniency appears to have emboldened the radicals. Not only did the intimidating flyer appear, but Koch quickly declared that they would continue their campaign against the YWC in an interview on a website affiliated with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a Marxist group that calls for the U.S. to give the Southeastern states to African-Americans and to give the Southwest to Hispanics. Koch said:
The organizing against YWC will continue. Chris Clemens' decision to step down as advisor of YWC revealed the fact that sometimes protest and “controversy” are necessary to create social change.
YWC is planning to bring Bay Buchanan later this year. There will be protests. I still have hopes that the advisor and the president will come to realize that they are enabling a white supremacist hate group and will choose to step down. But, if they desire a fight, they should know that we have the strength and resources for it.
And now they have managed to force out two YWC advisors in three months. Given all that has passed, perhaps it is time for the UNC administration and local officials to get serious about this issue. The radicals have a clear agenda to deprive the YWC of the most fundamental rights Americans have—the right to free assembly and the right to free speech.
The focus should not be on the wise-cracking professor, but on the anonymous individuals who created the threatening flyer. It would be hard to imagine that, if a collection of radical right-wing groups were conspiring to deny a liberal organization its right to hold meetings and speak freely on campus by using violent and threatening means, that the official response would be not be swift and severe.
Nothing in the YWC's mission statement supports the slur that it favors white supremacy. Their main concern is promoting the culture that supports individual liberty. They welcome people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds (Patel is an Indian-American). They have fairly mainstream opinions that a large percentage of Americans support, including their concern about illegal immigration. The mission statement of the national YWC states that:
Western Civilization is our civilization and in spite of the continual assault and hatred it endures from the radical left, we wish to revive the West, rather than see our civilization be sent to the graveyard of history.
It is instead the group's defense of the Western traditions of liberty and Christianity, the unashamed pride its members take in those traditions, and their identification of the assault on those traditions by the left, that makes them so despised by the radicals aligned against them. The involvement of the SDS, with its violent Marxist past, and the fact that Haley Koch gave her post-trial interview to a Marxist publication should tell people all they need to know about where the radicals’ true intentions lie.
And they will be as disruptive as school officials and the law permit them to be. Thorp has already encouraged them further by asking Cramer to step down.
Thorp can amend this error by making bold statements that he will not let legitimate opinions on his campus be harassed into silence. One thing he could do is to sponsor the YWC himself, at least for this year. That would send a powerful message to the radicals that his campus is a place for free expression of ideas, not group intimidation and violence.
Additionally, he must make it clear that attempts to intimidate and silence others on campus will be met with expulsion and prosecution. For without a very clear no-tolerance policy of such behavior, the radicals will grow continually more aggressive until they get their way or until somebody gets hurt. And if they get their way, they will use the same methods to silence other voices that disagree with them.
One would hope Thorp realizes the importance of this situation—it has gone beyond a few protestors interrupting one or two speeches, and gone beyond the confines of the campus. It has become a test whether the state of North Carolina will defend the YWC’s right to exist free from harassment, to exercise their rights to free speech and free assembly on campus. This is an important skirmish in a growing struggle between civilization, Western or otherwise, and mob rule.