Another white nationalist group is targeting college students, starting with an event planned for next week at the University of Tennessee.
Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party plans to hold a talk Feb. 17 on the Knoxville campus of the flagship state school. Heimbach did not respond to requests for comment. But the group’s website includes an announcement about planning a “march to retake our college campuses,” with people from the group going to universities and “putting forward how our worldview is not only good for white folks but the entire world. . . .
“The university campus has for generations been the home of the most radical forces of the anti-white leftist movement,” the white nationalist group wrote. “From Germany to Greece to the United States, the former places of higher education have been turned into ideological indoctrination centers for Jewish intellectuals to turn our youth against their people, their religion and their culture.”
The website invites white nationalists and Traditionalist Worker Party members to attend, be polite and nonviolent.
A University of Tennessee official said the school had been surprised by Heimbach’s planned event. “Last month, an individual reserved a room on our campus for an event using the name of a local church as the host,” university spokesman Ryan Robinson said in a statement.
But after making the initial reservation, that person called to change the name of the contact person leading the event to someone from out of state “with ties to a racial separatist group,” Robinson said. “In the past few days, this group began promoting the event. Since then, we have learned that the church is unaware of the event and has no affiliation with the person who made the request.
“We have serious concerns that this group misrepresented the nature of the event and their affiliations. To our knowledge, no one at the University of Tennessee invited this group to campus.”
He said the university is working with law enforcement to consider its next move.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group that tracks extremists, calls the Traditionalist Worker Party a hate group, “a white nationalist group that advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems.”
The group’s website proclaims the importance of faith, family and folk: “The ethnic community is the definition of a true nation. Shared blood, history and traditions are what make a people and bind us together as an extended family. We in the Traditionalist Worker Party fight for the interests of white Americans, a people who for decades have been abandoned by the system and actively attacked by globalists and traitorous politicians.”
The group’s plan for an event at the University of Tennessee is further evidence of white nationalists seeking inroads on campuses. Posters touting white supremacists have been appearing with increasing frequency on campus walls in recent months, and speakers continue to spread their messages publicly. The most vivid symbol of the ramped-up effort was a torchlight march at the University of Virginia in August that preceded a violent clash the next day between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville.
At schools across the country, college officials are grappling with how to balance freedom of speech with the inclusive values they promote for the community.
Student leaders at Tennessee did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The Traditionalist Worker Party has already made its presence felt on the campus, most visibly by painting the school’s rock with its own messages.
The Daily Beacon, the campus newspaper, reported that the rock had been painted with messages such as, “White Pride,” and “MLK was a commie and a pervert.” Columnist Owen Flomberg argued that the messages painted on the rock shouldn’t just be painted over and forgotten. “While the student body may not be infiltrated by hordes of neo-Nazis, there are some students who do subscribe to part of their ideology,” he wrote. “Even the fact that we don’t rally, protest or give these instances more lip-service than retweeting a bland condemnation is indicative of how unresponsive and passive we are to these intolerant and utterly distasteful thoughts. We need to do better.”
On Wednesday, Beverly Davenport, the university chancellor, invited the campus community to an event Friday sponsored by student and faculty leaders rejecting racism. “The message on our rock yesterday imploring white supremacists to ‘stay out’ captures our collective sentiment,” she wrote. “We do not want them here. But they appear intent on coming. We don’t, however, have to give them an audience or the attention they seek.”
She urged the campus community to “change the conversation away from what they stand for and toward what we stand for. We must reanimate our values, our beliefs and our commitment to the common good. I repeatedly talk about kindness and respect and our responsibility to others because these are the virtues of a civil society and the foundations of democracy. . . . This is a time for our campus to unite and support each other.”
On Friday, Davenport informed the campus that because of safety concerns, the group would not be allowed to hold an event in a museum as they had requested, but could use a campus hall that would be easier to secure.
She highlighted upcoming events, such as the vigil at the rock, a panel hosted by the student government, a presentation by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the Traditionalist Worker Party and a website about free speech that answers questions about Heimbach and the group.
“I want to reiterate: We don’t want them here,” Davenport told the campus. “They were not invited, and they are certainly not welcome.”