Earlier this month, Daniel Dropik, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, decided to found a Madison chapter of the American Freedom Party.
The American Freedom Party is a party of white nationalists that proclaims itself as primarily for “white Americans, and all Americans who support our mission,” its website states. Founded in January 2010, its platform invokes “freedom from immigration invasion” and “freedom of association,” specifically “freedom in racial matters.”
Dropik, 33, had long been interested in political debate, and believed that the UW-Madison campus had an anti-white climate. He believed that there was room for a pro-white student group outside of the conservative and libertarian party groups that already existed on the campus. And he wanted to be the creator of an explicit white advocacy party on campus.
“Fight Anti-White Racism on Campus! | Join Our Student Club | MadisonAFP.org/contact | #UWAltRight,” the flier read.
Outrage was swift at a school known to be one of the country’s most liberal-minded.
Dane Skaar, a student who had been handed a flier by Dropik outside of UW-Madison’s chemistry building, considered it a part of the “unfortunate normalization of ignorance that has come with President Trump’s inauguration,” he wrote.
UW-Madison’s independent student newspaper, The Badger Herald, wrote an article about Dropik’s intentions.
Then on Jan. 26, the chancellor, Rebecca Blank, issued a statement about Dropik’s past. It said she had “become aware that he was convicted in 2005 of racially motivated arsons of two African-American churches. I am appalled by attacks on churches and by organizations that express hatred of people of color, Jews, Muslims or any other identity.” The statement did not say how she had become aware. But students say reports had been circulating on campus.
Dropik had entered a guilty plea to two racially-motivated arsons, according to documents from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
In 2005 Dropik had been caught starting fires in two predominantly African American congregations, causing $850 in damage to the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee and $39,000 in damage to the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lansing, Mich. according to the Daily Cardinal.
Dropik had committed the crimes because he “believed a black person had stolen his backpack … and black men beat him up during a party near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,” according to the Associated Press.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Rudolph Randa sentenced Dropik to 63 months in prison, which he served, as well as three years on supervised release.
When Dropik was released, he pursued and was granted an associate degree at UW-Waukesha in 2013. He applied to UW-Madison in 2015 and is currently in his second year on campus, with a focus in computer science. He uses as his Twitter avatar “Pepe the Frog,” a symbol co-opted by white nationalist groups.
“Like many university systems,” Blank said in her statement, “the UW System’s admission application does not ask for or allow us to consider a student’s criminal history as part of the admissions process,” she wrote. Blank also acknowledged that the administration did not have any information to suggest that Dropik or others posed a safety threat to campus.
Meanwhile, other UW-Madison students continued to band together in protest. The focal point of opposition to the pro-white student group became a rally called “Take Back our Campus: Resist White Supremacy.” As student Katherine Kerwin wrote, “White nationalists are organizing on our campus. We will not allow UW-Madison to fall to the alt-right who promote hate.”
On Thursday night Dropik released a follow-up audio statement to Chancellor Blank’s statement.
“Over ten years ago, I was indicted for two counts of racially-motivated arson over damaged property. This is a true fact,” he said. Dropik continued:
It’s also a fact that I regret these violent and wrong acts. I’ve regretted these long before I ever decided to be a student at UW-Madison, and I’ve regretted this long before I’ve ever decided to have an interest in the alt-right. And for those on campus who are just learning about this, who may feel discouraged or sad or hurt, I want to tell you that I’m sorry. This was wrong.
Correction: An original version of this story said the Daily Cardinal broke the news of Dropik’s past. In fact, the chancellor broke the news in her statement and WISC, the Cardinal and others reported it.