Two white supremacy-related decals found on campus

Leighah Beausoleil/THE GATEPOST

Two decals promoting a national hate group were found by students on lamp posts outside the McCarthy Center Nov. 3.

The decals are propaganda from “Patriot Front,” an organization recognized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a white supremacy group.

Peggy Shukur, deputy director of ADL New England, said the Patriot Front is prominent in the New England region, adding it spreads “racism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance under the guise of preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of their European ancestors.”

She said the group’s philosophy is that “their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it solely to them.”

Shukur added the propaganda used by the group, including decals, stickers, and flyers, is aimed at luring in others to its extremist and white supremacist world view. 

She said the content may seem “patriotic” at first, but then it exposes people to a “whole range of racist, anti-Semetic, and bigoted opinions, views, and actions.”

The decals were first discovered by Meeghan Bresnahan, a junior history major, who then reported the sighting to SGA President McKenzie Ward. 

[Editor’s Note: McKenzie Ward is also Opinions Editor for The Gatepost.]

Bresnahan said she was on her way to the Heineman Ecumenical & Cultural Center for a Hilltop Players rehearsal when she noticed the first decal on a lamp post located between the McCarthy Center and Foster Hall. 

“I was extremely upset,” she said. “I remember when there were decals up last [academic] year, and I thought we had gotten past that.

“These decals stand for hate then and now, and they have no place anywhere, including on a college campus,” she added.

After receiving this report from Bresnahan, Ward said she notified the Dean of Students Office, University Police, and Director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) Eric Nguyen.

Looking around State Street to see if there were any more, Ward said she discovered a second decal on a lamp post in front of the McCarthy Center near the public bus stop.

“Knowing that racist incidents happen in a place that you are supposed to consider your home is already traumatic,” she said. “I was not going to let a BIPOC student find these and have to report it to the Campus Police themselves. No BIPOC student should ever have to go through something as traumatic as that.

“White students, like myself, have the privilege of thinking of ‘if’ another incident of hatred will happen on our campus,” Ward added. “But for BIPOC students, it is not a question of if, but rather a question of when the next incident will occur on campus.”

Ward said SGA will be issuing a statement condemning Patriot Front on social media and will have a discussion about the decals during its meeting Nov. 9.

Interim Chief of University Police John Santoro said following Ward’s report to University Police, Community Resource Officer Katelyn Kelley began the investigation and removed the decals.

There was then a search for more decals across campus, with a second one taking place the following morning when there was more daylight, according to Santoro.

The University Police will be checking the campus security cameras to see if the person who placed the decals was captured on film, he said.

Santoro added he is unsure if the lamp posts on which the decals were placed on University or city property, but the University Police will continue investigating. 

Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel, said the only difference property ownership would make to the investigation would be who the crimes offended – the city or the University – but the same criminal charges would be applied. 

In a Nov. 4 email to the FSU community, President F. Javier Cevallos stated, “Any individuals identified in connection to the posting of these materials could face charges, including trespassing, vandalism, intimidation, and other crimes depending on the outcome of the investigation.”

McDonald said if a member of the University was associated with the placement of the decals, they could be subjected to an internal conduct review, “which is different than a criminal charge because it’s really just a campus offense.”

She explained the difference between what would be considered free speech as opposed to vandalism. 

McDonald said free speech is allowed “within the limits of whatever area or the space the individual is occupying.” 

She added people are able to say what they would like in public spaces as long as it does not fall in line with “any of the prohibited kinds of speech.” However, in situations such as with the decals, property is involved.

The University cannot display anything political because it is a state property, she said. “It’s not the type of speech, but where it is that’s being restricted or limited.”

On Nov. 1, Paige Capone, a senior sociology major, said she saw someone hosting a table outside the McCarthy Center with political signs and notified her boss, Career Services & Employer Relations Director Rich Davino. University Police were then contacted.

Santoro said an officer received a report of the table with signs stating, “Make America Great,” adding the officer asked the person at the table if they went through the “proper channels” to be there. 

The person had not received permission from the University and was asked to leave, according to Santoro.

Sean Cabot, a senior communication arts major, said he also saw the table on that day and took a photo of it. 

[Editor’s Note: Sean Cabot is a Staff Writer for The Gatepost.]

He said the table belonged to Turning Point USA, an organization that promotes conservative values on high school and college campuses.

The table had a number of buttons, flyers, and leaflets promoting the organization and its AmericaFest event.

ADL Deputy Director Shukur said the organization’s “mission is to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.”

She added because the organization is newer, it doesn’t “have a long history, but their leadership and their activists have made multiple racist or bigoted comments and they’ve been linked to a variety of extremists.”

Santoro said there was no note of the table belonging to Turning Point USA in the officer’s report, adding he, personally, did not know anything about the group.

In March, nine decals were found throughout campus from the Patriot Front group. The two people who placed them were caught on camera, but due to face masks and hats, they could not be identified, according to Santoro. 

According to the ADL’s Hate, Extremism, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism (H.E.A.T.) Map that tracks all of the league’s reports related to white supremacy, the Patriot Front group came to FSU’s campus on March 10, 2020 to distribute propaganda that read, “Life of our nation liberty of our nation liberty of our people victory of the American spirit,” “America is not for sale,” “One nation against invasion,” and “Life liberty victory.”

Santoro said University Police have no record of officers identifying Patriot Front members on campus that day.

According to the H.E.A.T. Map, 5,125 cases of white-supremacy propaganda were reported in 2020 across the United States. Massachusetts reported 276 of those cases.

In a Nov. 4 interview, Cevallos said the difficulty of situations such as these is that Framingham State is an “open campus” that anyone can enter.

He emphasized that community members should try not to get “riled up about these people” because that is the group’s intention. 

Cevallos added community members “just have to try to keep our mind and our commitment to anti-racism – to education – to keep the campus safe.”

Dara Barros, SGA diversity and inclusion officer, said she was “disappointed” this has happened again. 

She said the University needs to take “purposeful action” and communicate with students to learn “from our own experiences” and “how we are feeling” – not just send an email.

“There is action that absolutely needs to be done at this University to make sure that that is not tolerated,” she added. “We say that it’s not tolerated and we’ve made our commitment to anti-racism, but I want to see action. We can’t just do performative action anymore. We have to do action that matters.”

Barros added, “I walk alone at night and that already scares me as a female. Now, I’m scared as a female of color.”

CIE Director Nguyen said, “I am sad and disappointed that this continues to happen. I’m angry that this continues to happen,” adding people seem to be “willing” to spend time and energy to promote messages that “are inherently racist and hateful.”

He said after finding out about the decals from Ward, he reached out to Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, as well as the University’s affinity groups. 

Nguyen added the CIE is always open as a safe space for students to come to, but he invited students from the affinity groups to join him today (Nov. 4) to have conversations about the decals and what the students would like to see happen going forward.

He said he not only reports back to the administration, but also helps connect students who may have concerns or ideas with administrators.

Nguyen said when hate groups commit these acts, there are two sides of intent – intimidation and communication through hate and bigotry as well as a passive form of recruitment. 

He added it is important to focus on the students who are hurt by these groups, but it is also valuable to consider the “other impacts that instances like these have.”

This gives white students and employees an opportunity to consider their role in these situations, he said. 

“What kinds of stances can they take?” Nguyen asked. “What kind of work can we do? How can we continue to be more vocal about the fact that this type of hate has no place on campus? And to also communicate very clearly what are the repercussions or what are the consequences for engaging in this type of behavior.”

Students seeking support can reach Nguyen at enguyen@framingham.edu and the University’s Counseling Center at counselingcenter@framingham.edu and 508-626-4640.

Anyone with information regarding the decals can reach University Police at 508-626-4911. Anonymous tips can be texted to 67283. Begin the message with “FSUTIP” followed by a space and the tip.