FSU Neo-Nazi Free Speech Hate Speech
Fascist and white supremacist action is on the rise in America. This has been evident since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and only worsened with events like the January 6 insurrection and a series of mass shootings motivated by such ideals.
Among the groups that have publicly incited racist and homophobic violence is the Patriot Front. Perhaps the most theatrical of the bunch, they take to the streets in sunglasses and white bandanas and intentionally do whatever they can to draw attention to themselves. Earlier this year, they made headlines for trying to attack a Pride parade in Idaho and marching through Boston on July 4.
Earlier this year in January, left-wing online activists Unicorn Riot infiltrated the Patriot Front’s online chat rooms and uncovered the identities of several members. One of them is a current FSU student. When contacted about this, the FSU administration issued a statement indicating that it had no intention of doing anything about it.
The protection of free speech on public college campuses mirrors that of the US government. They are, in effect, funded by the government, so they abide by the same restrictions that the First Amendment imposes on the federal government. Thus, the response to these allegations from the FSU administration was, “Individuals are entitled to personal beliefs, even if they are despicable and contrary to our values as a university.”
They reiterated this statement when contacted for further information and asked to comment. There has been no significant change in their stance in recent months as Patriot Front has gained notoriety.
This protection is important. Historically, free speech restrictions are more often used to target minorities and progressive actions than to attempt to prevent public hate speech. However, I would say that a university that protects neo-Nazis cannot claim to support diversity and inclusion, and it cannot claim to be a safe place for minorities who oppose hate speech.
FSU promotes itself as such an institution, including diversity and inclusion in its Seminole Creed, which is a list of values the university intends to uphold. They claim to oppose hate speech, but ultimately, government commitment to free speech supersedes taking concrete action to discourage hate speech and hostility on campus. These claims to protect diversity are based on the assumption that the presence of far-right ideologies on campus represents a wide range of political beliefs, rather than a threat to the well-being of minority students.
This is not an exaggeration. The Patriot Front, in particular, has been implicated in multiple attempts to incite violence, with the Tallahassee local even engaging in tactical drills in public parks around town and posting videos online. The organization’s manifesto outlines how members believe America should become a white ethno-state with a fascist government. Their beliefs are in direct and violent opposition to principles like diversity and inclusion. Treating them like them as if they were the same as minority students ignores the complexity of the situation, equating two completely different qualities.
Too often we are unaware that political ideology is easily subject to change as our perception of the world evolves, and no one is born a neo-Nazi. Being a neo-Nazi is not an inherent trait that people have to live with – it’s an active choice to ignore the humanity of people who differ from you. Treating them as if they were a minority ignores the lived experiences of real minorities, who cannot change who they are and are forced to deal with the systemic disadvantages and biases that target them.
Often fascists result from alienation from peers and online rabbit holes that feed their darkest thoughts and encourage them to blame minorities rather than look deeper. They are angry and they have found something that justifies both their anger and their internal prejudices. It is important to work towards the de-radicalization of these individuals. Community institutions should provide pathways to de-radicalization in order to preserve community safety and capacity to function. Refusing to intervene only reinforces the emboldening of these people.
Institutional tolerance for fascism and white supremacy reinforces that public and violent bigotry is somehow acceptable. It is a position that opposes freedom of speech, equal rights for all, and basic human decency towards people who are not white men.
Fostering the presence of these people not only harms the climate of the FSU campus, but the larger Tallahassee community. The local chapter of the Patriot Front specifically targeted FAMU for harassment. Tolerating the presence of this group does not only affect FSU. The administration’s refusal to take even basic disciplinary action against this individual or even basic intervention betrays a deep institutional apathy towards combating hate speech and hate groups on campus.