On Tuesday, April 14th, a new white supremacist group on campus called Youth for Western Civilization (?!) had scheduled ex Republican Congressman of Colorado Tom Tancredo to speak on the University of North Carolina campus. YWC is a new national organization, with local chapters on campuses around the US, which uses thinly veiled language around heritage, identity, and cultural pride in western civilization to hide a fairly obvious white supremacist agenda. Their founder Marcus Epstein, for example, is an explicit white supremacist who comments on blogs such as stormfront.org, and the organization’s website (westernyouth.org) has a traditional symbol of Italian fascism as its banner.
Fortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned for the organization. Posters had already been wheatpasted around town and campus letting folks know a known white supremacist was to speak on campus, and when Tuesday night came around, the room in Bingham Hall was completely packed, standing room only. There were also at least half a dozen police doing a perimeter around the building, as well as a few inside the classroom where Tancredo was planning to speak. In the building’s lobby, folks handed out little sheets of paper encouraging people to chant or shout in unison when Tancredo said certain words (ex: “America..” and everyone hisses like an angry cat). A few hundred yards away outside, a rowdy protest with chants and banners was getting going.
When the president of YWC stood up to introduce Tancredo, he was immediately booed and shouted down, with chants of “racist, racist” and yells that interrupted every other word. He was clearly flustered, and unprepared for this sort of reaction, and Tancredo was yet to even make it inside! Before the asshole could finish, he was interrupted for a final time by loud chants coming from the lobby of clapping protesters screaming, “Shut them down! No racists in our town!” Our friends had made it in the building! Those of us undercover inside the classroom started chanting and clapping with them, as well as playing a game of ”marco polo” as a way to commemorate all that western civilization has given us. The group outside started trying to push itself in the room, and scuffles with police ensued.
Somehow, by sheer luck, Tancredo slid his slimy way through one of the two doors, and approached the pedestal. He’s a creepy looking guy, kind of short, with the ugly smile only a politician’s mother could love. Before he could begin to talk, however, two more of our people in the audience rose up to hold a long banner in front of him that read, “No Dialogue with Hate.” We all started chanting along with it, until two pigs dragged the banner holders outside the room. When they opened the door, however, the protesters outside pushed back, and the pigs responded with pepper spray and tasers.
UNC campus is usually pretty tame; things like this don’t happen very often, and while many of us were not students and have been to plenty of rowdy demos, we were nevertheless surprised at the cops’ behavior. The lobby was quickly cleared, with some of us going back and forth between the room and outside to seek out a medic and to announce what was going on. As the group outside regrouped, Tancredo attempted to resume his speech. He was once again interrupted by the presence of two more banner holders, and the group outside began banging on the building’s outside door.
While disruption and chanting continued inside, drowning out the ex-congressman, the group outside of about 30-50 students and community members moved to rear of the building, the side in which the classroom is located. Demonstrators then began banging on the windows of the classroom, screaming at the racist inside. One of the windows was smashed in the process, at which point it seems that Tancredo was informed by either his bodyguard or the police that the situation had become too volatile for him to continue. As he was being removed from the side of Bingham, one of the protesters shouted that Tancredo was leaving the building, and the entire group started running after him. They were unfortunately stopped by a group of police, and decided then to regather in front with protesters who were leaving the building, bewildered and victorious. A short rally out front proceeded, in which protesters chanted, held banners reading “smash white supremacy by any means necessary” and “no one is illegal,” and announced further meetings centered on budget cuts and the economic crisis.
A liberal “dance party for diversity” that was purposely scheduled at the same time as Tancredo’s speech in order to prevent our disruption, was, needless to say, a total failure. In the future it would be wonderful to see a more explicit critique of the rhetoric of "diversity" when employed by white liberals, particularly when they use it as a way to mask their belief that white supremacists have a "right" to organize.
Militant disruption of anti-immigrant and white supremacist organizing is only going to be increasingly important in the next few years, as the pacification of liberals, Obama’s presidency, and the economic crisis will all make fertile ground for racist organizing. While UNC and other college campuses are hardly the most likely demographic for white supremacist growth, they are a source for funding for public speakers like Bay Buchanan, Tom Tancredo, and Marcus Epstein, who could then funnel those funds into more threatening groups. YWC was formed largely to serve this very purpose. The Anti-Racist Action network has fallen somewhat into disrepair in the last 5 years or so; it would be a perfect time to revive these kinds of explicitly anti-authoritarian, anti-racist groups.
Liberals’ backlash against this successful action has already set in. It would be great if in the future we had a clear message set out ahead of time as to why there’s only one way to deal with fascists, instead of scrambling to present that message after the fact. This protest was hastily assembled by an ad hoc network of student groups and community members, and, while it was successful, having an explicitly anti-racist action style body ahead of time might have made it easier to avoid this backlash, or at least better explain our motives and critiques.