Controversial flyers discovered at ETSU

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Oct 6, 2017 at 12:05 AM

After East Tennessee State University students discovered flyers from a white nationalist group on campus Thursday, members of the campus community have been keeping an eye out for hate group activity.

According to Lisa Moss, a member of the United Campus Workers union, students in the D.P Culp University Center discovered flyers from Identity Evropa, a group recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Once they were noticed, the flyers were immediately taken down and reported to ETSU administration.

“There were about five or six. They were by the elevator on the bulletin board in the Culp Center,” Moss said.

Founded by California white supremacist organizer Nathan Damigo, a self-proclaimed “identitarian” and veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the group fashions itself as “a generation of awakened Europeans who have discovered that we are part of the great peoples, history, and civilization that flowed from the European continent,” according to the group’s website.

In 2007, Damigo was convicted of the armed robbery of a taxicab driver in La Mesa, California. He said he believed the man was Iraqi. He spent four years in prison, reading the literature of far-right racist ideologues.

He founded Identity Evropa in 2016.

Today, the group continues to organize against multiculturalism and “Jewish influence,” often looking to universities to recruit new members. Damigo and others with the group were also instrumental in helping organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the violent clashes that left dozens injured and one activist, Heather Heyer, dead.

Moss said she was alarmed by how “slick” the flyers were and how they weren’t overtly offensive. She said groups like Identity Evropa, which have conducted similar campaigns on other campuses, have appeared to take a new approach by attempting to intellectualize racism.

“Of course, I think it's horrific. If you look on their website, you see that it’s a slick rebranding,” Moss said. “And I think it's even scarier that they would try to make it easier to normalize on campus.”

For students and other members of the campus community who are familiar with the group, the discovery of the flyers was alarming.

“Quite frankly, if I see any more of this garbage, I’m going to put it in the recycling (bin) where it belongs,” student Erin Drinnon said of the flyers. “This group in particular preys on young, disillusioned white men who want to feel like they’re fighting back against something oppressive because they can’t stand the idea of admitting to being privileged. I believe in free speech, but the implications of this are closer to the incitement of violence.

“If we’re not careful, they’re going to create another Timothy McVeigh. I don’t feel safe with this on my campus.”

Joe Smith, ETSU’s executive assistant to the president for University Relations, said the flyers were not put up with campus approval. To his knowledge, only a few have been discovered so far.

“Right now, it’s an extremely isolated incident, and we’ll have to continue to monitor the situation,” Smith said.

Earlier this week, the hate group also distributed dozens of flyers at Middle Tennessee State University, where President Sidney A. McPhee issued a statement Monday evening condemning the group’s activities on campus and “hateful rhetoric that diminishes any member of the MTSU family.”

“We strongly condemn the views of white supremacist, neo-Nazi and other hate groups. While we will respect the right of free speech when exercised within the policies of the university, we will also continue to work to make our campus as safe as possible and to advance the values of our True Blue Pledge. Those values commit us to reason, not violence; to both listening and speaking; and to our membership in this diverse community. We will maintain our focus on the enrichment that comes to our campus through the wide range of backgrounds represented by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and we will refuse to give to hate groups the attention that they seek,” McPhee said.

Moss said she worries the flyers are a part of an organized campaign by the hate group to recruit members from universities across the country. 

Email Brandon Paykamian at [email protected] Follow Brandon Paykamian on Twitter at @PaykamianJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PaykamianJCP.

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