The signs mirrored those found on many other campuses in recent weeks. Groups that the Anti-Defamation League, which seeks to document and prevent bigotry, identifies as white supremacist have been pushing to spread their message on campuses and recruit college students, according to a recent analysis by the ADL. The report said the groups have been emboldened by current politics to carry out what the ADL called an unprecedented outreach to U.S. college students. The ADL says more than 100 such incidents have occurred this academic year, with more than half of them since January.
It has been a divisive year. A polarizing election and heated protests over race and police violence have elevated tensions on many campuses, and police have responded to reports of slurs, threats, graffiti and more. A few incidents were later discredited as false.
At George Washington, signs depicted white people and contained slogans about uniting. A notice "to all white Americans" urges them to report undocumented people to federal authorities. "THEY ARE CRIMINALS. AMERICA IS A WHITE NATION," the sign reads.
Corey Garlick, a law student, said he and his friends had seen the signs all over campus. "I cannot believe this is taking place today in the U.S., let alone on a college campus in a liberal city like D.C.," he said. Garlick said other students are outraged, and many, including a friend who is an immigrant and a Muslim, are scared.
Vanguard America, a group whose name appears on the signs, responded to a request for comment with an email: "We hope to raise awareness amongst college students regarding the problems facing the world today, and to advocate for a National Socialist solution to these problems."
They targeted other schools in the area at the same time, the spokesman said. Signs also were found Monday at the University of Maryland.
At Georgetown, a man reported seeing similar signs on a bus shelter near the entrance to campus on Saturday. Todd A. Olson, vice president for student affairs, said in a statement: "The Georgetown University Police Department is investigating these reports. The posters appear to be part of a campaign by an outside group that has posted similar materials on campuses across the country. Acts of hate will not be tolerated on Georgetown's campus. We are a community that welcomes all people and that values understanding, dignity, inclusion and respect. Anyone with information about this campaign on our campus should report it to GUPD at 202-687-4343."
The timing of the signs at GWU, which were put up shortly before a large meeting with leaders of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group, on GWU's campus, was not intentional. "In all honesty we had no idea about the SPLC event happening," the spokesman for Vanguard America said, "but we do hate those guys, just a coincidence though."
On its website, the group writes: "America is, by right and history, a White nation. It deserves to stay that way, and it deserves a political system that realizes and preserves the essence of its unique people in all forms."
Candace Smith, a spokeswoman for the university, said in an emailed statement: "We are aware that some fliers were posted without authorization on campus. We are in the process of removing them. GW Police are investigating to determine the identity of those who have defaced our property. The language used in the fliers is offensive and is counter to our values as an open and inclusive community. If anyone has information about the case please contact GWPD at 202-994-6111."
On Wednesday, Steven Knapp, president of GWU, sent a message to the campus community:
You may have noticed the blue and white "You Are Welcome" signs around campus that, in various languages, welcome students and visitors from all communities to our university. These signs reaffirm our values and our commitment to educating citizen leaders equipped to thrive and to serve in our increasingly diverse and global society.
They stand in sharp contrast to the fliers promoting a racially exclusive vision of America that have been appearing on campuses across the nation, including our Foggy Bottom Campus. Those fliers have been posted without authorization and have been removed whenever they have been discovered.
We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that all members of our university community enjoy an environment conducive to civil discourse, free from expressions of hatred and acts of intimidation.