More than 300 people have signed a petition saying they do not feel comfortable on campus “due to the administration’s response to white supremacist Nathan [Damigo]. In order to help me feel safe being on campus at California State University, Stanislaus, I demand administration engage, collaborate, and foster dialogue with students and community members.”
And some of Damigo’s fellow students at Stanislaus State rallied against hate speech Wednesday, chanting “If racism is what you preach — you can’t hide behind free speech!” and holding up signs reading “Stand with immigration workers,” “Keep all families together” and “Show up for trans migrant detainees.”
A university spokeswoman said Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn attended the rally Wednesday and listened to what the students had to say — including their concerns about Damigo.
Damigo has not responded to numerous requests for comment from The Washington Post.
For months, Berkeley has been embroiled in brutal demonstrations in which protesters from the far left and the far right have been battling it out — punching, clubbing and pepper-spraying one another.
As The Post’s Susan Svrluga and William Wan reported, some protesters are demanding that controversial speakers such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos not be given a platform, while others insist that blocking them violates their right to free speech.
While confrontations over speakers are nothing new on college campuses, the anger has spun into riots in some places, leaving universities and police trying to balance safety and First Amendment rights.
Wan reported Wednesday that Yiannopoulos, a provocative conservative writer, said he plans to occupy the public plaza at the heart of the Berkeley campus and will host a week of free-speech rallies there this fall to protest the university’s handling of controversial speakers, including himself and Coulter, a conservative commentator.
Coulter had planned to speak at Berkeley on Thursday, but she announced this week that her appearance had been canceled (again) amid mounting concerns about potentially violent protests.
Regardless, Damigo said, he would be back in Berkeley on Thursday.
In a video posted April 15, Damigo was seen talking about Identity Evropa, which he said is “interested in promoting and preserving European culture and values.”
He said his group was at the protest “because we believe that free speech is a European value and there are many people here who are wishing to use violence to silence other people. And so we feel that’s important to be here today to ensure that people are able to speak without having violence used against them and that they’re able to get their narrative out there and just start a conversation, start a dialogue and let people know that there are certain things they disagree with and some things they do agree with and they’re not going to be intimidated when these people come out here to promote violence.”
That was the same day Damigo was apparently seen in a video punching a female protester in the face and then running into a chaotic crowd.
Damigo hasn’t said much about the April 15 incident.
But three days later, he retweeted a photo that appeared to show the punched protester holding a glass bottle.
“I said, ‘This is dumb. Why don’t … each one of them have their own country and they can all express themselves and … they’re not, you know, fighting with each other,’” he told the newspaper last year.
Damigo lost a few friends to the war, and came back in bad shape. After his first tour, he tried to commit suicide, but a friend intervened, according to San Diego County court records.
In November 2007, he had been home for a month after his second tour of duty and was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, paranoia and flashbacks, court records show. A few days after the anniversary of a friend’s combat death, he spent a night drinking and went for a walk with a gun he’d gotten two days before as a gift. He came across a La Mesa cab driver who he thought was Iraqi, put a gun to his head and robbed the man of $43, records show.
He was convicted of armed robbery and spent a year in county jail and four years in prison for the crime.
“Because you have nothing but time to think in prison, that’s when I finally started looking at the more intellectual roots and started researching books and literature on race and identity,” he told the Times, adding that he was heavily influenced by the book “My Awakening,” which was written by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
After the April 15 punching incident in Berkeley, Junn, California State University at Stanislaus officials said they were investigating the incident.
“The university takes these allegations seriously, and as President, I have initiated an immediate investigation on campus to verify and confirm details of this incident,” Junn said in a statement at the time. “The university has zero tolerance for the use of violence and we will take all of the necessary legal and disciplinary measures to ensure that all students and everyone on campus have a safe and secure environment. While this incident understandably raises many negative emotions and calls for urgent actions, we must also hold true to our American system and principles of justice and due process.”
The petition to Stanislaus State administrators says that Damigo “has continuously made xenophobic remarks and often posts videos promoting a hateful ideology of exclusion and hate. Most recently, [Damigo] was recorded at an alt-white gathering in Berkeley, California. During this gathering, it clearly shows Nathan punching a woman … in the face.
“Although this did not occur on campus grounds, many students have stated they feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus due to his presence and due to University administration’s passive response.”
Asked about the administration’s response to student concerns about Damigo, the university said it could not disclose information about individual students at the school.