“Administration is not doing enough”: SDS speaks on neo-Nazis, campus preachers, and activism

Courtney Green, News Editor

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Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) is a student-led activist group on campus. They campaign around equity and social justice on campus, tackling big issues like racism and LGBT rights. From a standpoint of advocacy for helping students’ voices be heard, SDS is passionate about the neo-Nazi problem on campus – both in the past and currently.

“We first heard about the neo-Nazi flyers on campus from Reddit,” Treasurer of UNF SDS Monica Martinez told Spinnaker in an interview following the club’s speakout against the neo-Nazi presence on campus. Her reaction to the Reddit post was one of fear and anger. “I was angry because this was not the first time we had encountered something like this at UNF.”

Ken Parker was suspended from UNF after posting this photo on social media.

In 2017, a student was suspended and banned from campus after being charged with numerous Student Code of Conduct violations. He was a KKK Grand Dragon. The Jacksonville community paid close attention to the story.

Martinez’s other reaction to the Reddit post, fear, wasn’t just for herself, but for the entire student body. “I was scared because this is something that is a safety issue for all students, and particularly if you are a minority student or a student of color.”

The neo-Nazi flyers that have been photographed on campus express racist rhetoric, with phrases such as “It’s Okay to Genocide Subhumans,” so there certainly is a threatening nature to the flyers and the invisible presence of whoever hung them up around campus. Martinez says the threat the posters entail and the sense that not enough is being done to locate the individual or group responsible has left her with doubts that enough is being done.

“I think the handling of the current administration in regards to this issue was very weak,” she said candidly. “The statement was a copy-and-paste statement from the same one they gave Spinnaker a week earlier, so that just goes to show the seriousness the administration has for the issue.”

The statement issued to the Osprey community by President Szymanski via email reads as follows: “The University of North Florida wholeheartedly rejects hate in all its forms, and the views expressed on these flyers are fundamentally opposed to everything we stand for as a university and as human beings.” Szymanski also went on to say that UPD was continuing its search for the flyers.

Martinez felt more could have been said. “It said ‘we don’t reflect these types of views on campus,’ and it’s kind of just like ‘okay, we understand that, so what are you going to do about it?’ They didn’t write about further actions, protocol – they just said contact UPD if you see something suspicious. Students are tired of hearing that, and some students might not feel comfortable going to law enforcement.”

Since the neo-Nazi flyers were first reported by students, UPD has been unable to locate any despite daily searches for offensive materials on campus. According to the University’s statement, a Housing and Residence Life staff member found and removed a flyer from a UNF residence hall. Another flyer was found outside of Chick-fil-A by a student, who took a picture of it before alerting UPD. UPD could not find the flyer upon searching.

A student shared a photo of this flyer to Reddit, writing that it was found outside of Chick-fil-A on UNF’s campus.

The neo-Nazis themselves posted photos of their flyers plastered around what appears to be UNF’s campus to the Telegram app. In one photo, the poster behind the neo-Nazi flyers is one for UNF’s pre-law program, and another poster in the background features the LGBT Resource Center. The letters ‘UNF’ are visible.

A neo-Nazi flyer next to what appears to be a UNF pre-law program poster.

“It’s disappointing,” Martinez said on UPD being unable to locate a flyer. “Recently, SDS had a meeting with the President, and the President said he increased funding for UPD and he stated that was due to the fact that UPD risks their lives to make this a safe campus, but these funds are not being reflected upon the investigation in finding the neo-Nazi or their posters, and that is really disappointing.”

“It could be they are saying they couldn’t locate them because that would look bad for the school, but it looks worse that they cannot when students are finding them,” Martinez shared.

Another component of the fear the neo-Nazi presence on campus brings is the specific group’s actions and rhetoric. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Feuerkrieg Divison (F.K.D.) has called for violence against those they perceive as their enemies, as well as the destruction of society as we know it in an effort to undo what they think is a “system” controlled by Jews. Based in Estonia, the group is estimated to have around 30 members internationally – meaning Jacksonville happens to have terrible luck if there is a member posting flyers around UNF. Though small, the group holds some of the most extremist and dangerous views of the far-right. The FKD appears to be influenced by the Atomwaffen Division, another neo-Nazi group responsible for five murders in the U.S. The FKD themselves has had a member arrested in August this year on allegations that he was manufacturing bombs that he intended to use on Jews and members of the LGBT community.

“I should be able to feel safe within my classrooms. I should be able to feel safe going to the library or coming out late. I should not be afraid that my life is in danger,” Martinez said. “It isn’t just my physical safety. It’s mental health too. This plays into anxiety and depression.”

Students for a Democratic Society aren’t only focused on activism against possible neo-Nazis on campus, but also on hate-speech in general. Not only does Martinez think hate-speech should be banned, but she also thinks students should be expelled for engaging in it. She also holds the view that the University has trouble identifying hate-speech when it’s obvious, as she (and many students) view the campus preachers to engage in hate-speech often without consequence.

“It’s sad we have to conform to their presence and avoid walking around certain areas on campus,” Martinez lamented. “They call students whores, tell them they are going to hell if they are LGBTQ or listen to rap music.”

She says that at that point, its harassment of certain groups and that the University should view it in this light, rather than freedom of speech.

Protestors on the green at UNF

Students protesting the campus preaching group, Untamed Truth, during the Fall 2019 semester. Photo by Brett Nweeia

Are the campus preachers engaging in free speech? In a past statement to Spinnaker, the University has said that the conduct of the preachers was legal and fell within their protected rights under the Campus Free Expression Act, which UNF must abide by. If you ever feel as though their conduct is not legal, you are encouraged by the University to contact UPD.

Martinez also perceives the treatment of the campus preachers as drastically different from how SDS is treated. She cited how the preachers sometimes roam around campus freely without surveillance, but the SDS speakout was observed by administration.

“The surveillance SDS has as a whole is not the same as the standards they put onto campus preachers,” Martinez said. She characterized student reactions to SDS as mostly positive, while the opposite is true for how students feel about the campus preachers. She was straightforward that she perceives administration as not taking student complaints about the preachers seriously enough.

“That’s not fair for the administration to try to silence our voices. They tell us not to engage with them,” Martinez said, “but students feel like they have a voice when they protest them. The protests make the preachers hear us that we don’t like them here.”

Seeing students protesting the campus preachers helps Martinez feel safe. “It means I’m not alone in my uncomfortable feeling. We’re not alone, and that’s the power of student voices.”

Martinez’s parting message for students is a call to action.

“When you’re active against injustice and issues on campus, then the administration and students and faculty see that, they feel that, and they see there is an impact with our voices. I want the administration to listen to us. Do better. A copy-paste statement with one word change is not enough.”

Monica Martinez of Students for a Democratic Society at their “No Nazis at UNF” speakout. Photo credit Dan Parker.

If you would like to join Students for a Democratic Society, you can sign up through PerchPortal. The club meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Student Union, RM 3806/3804. You can follow them on social media at UNF SDS on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you see anything suspicious or witness unlawful conduct of any kind, please contact UPD at (904) 620-2800.

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