The White Student Union was recently labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit that tracks the activities of organizations they perceive to have roots in hate-bias and domestic terrorism. The SPLC classifies the WSU as a white nationalist organization, which they define as an organization “espousing white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of non-whites,” according to the SPLC website.
Mark Potok, a SPLC spokesman, said the White Student Union clearly represents the archetype of a white nationalist group. He said that the rhetoric used by WSU president Matthew Heimbach leads to the idea that some racial groups are less or should be separate.
“We base off of ideology,” Potok said. “It has nothing to do with criminality or potential for violence.”
Potok referenced an incident last year in which Heimbach’s former organization, the now defunct Youth for Western Civilization, chalked controversial “white pride” messages across campus. While the language used then wasn’t inherently dangerous, Potok said, he noted on the WSU blog that Heimbach links to pro-white organization websites, like the Council of Conservative Citizens, which directly promotes segregation.
“We … oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called ‘affirmative action’ and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races,” the Council of Conservative Citizens’ website reads.
The SPLC alleged that Heimbach is a member of the Baltimore subchapter of the CCC group, though Heimbach could not be reached to confirm. On the CCC website, an October press release suggests Heimbach is the Director of the Baltimore subchapter.
Heimbach recently garnered national headlines with the announcement that WSU members will conduct random on-campus patrols, equipped with flashlights and pepper spray, in an effort to prevent campus crime such as sexual assaults. No other weapons will be used, as a University policy prohibits weapon possession and use.
On his blog, Heimbach posted in February about a “black crime wave” that threatened campus, leading him to compose the patrols.
“For those who are not Towson students it seems hard to fathom that every single day black predators prey upon the majority white Towson University student body,” Heimbach writes.
Later, Heimbach clarified that the patrol members intend to help any student, no matter what race.
“If we come across a non-white student being harmed by a white assailant we will help the victim in all cases,” Heimbach said on the blog. “Our goal is not to create some vigilante lynch mob as some of the media has suggested.”
Administration was quiet on the issue until Wednesday, when University President Maravene Loeschke, Vice President for Student Affairs Deb Moriarty, and Associate Vice President in the Office of Public Safety Bernard Gerst released a series of statements saying they do not encourage these nighttime patrols.
Moriarty said administration has tried to be proactive and is purposefully increasing police presence in the evening hours because of the proposed patrols.
“Enough people have reported feeling unsafe,” she said.
Right now, Heimbach is operating within his bounds as a student to conduct patrols, and Moriarty said only if he or another member of the WSU broke University policy or the law would there be a follow-up.
Moriarty did say they would have a conversation with Heimbach regarding the patrols if students felt threatened, and she encouraged students to contact University officials if they at all feel endangered.
Jonathan Smith, the President of the Black Student Union, said that members of the BSU feel secure with the security Towson is offering.
Smith said administration has been supportive, and that Loeschke, Moriarty and Associate Vice President of Campus Life Teri Hall have made personal visits to the BSU, asking if the members feel comfortable in the current campus climate.
“We assured our group members that [Heimbach] can’t just walk around and interrogate members,” Smith said.
Smith said he has fielded phone calls for days from BSU alumni who have expressed concern over the events at the University. Right now, Smith said the main mission is not to angrily react to the WSU, but promote a positive image of the University that he said the WSU has sullied.
BSU, in collaboration with the Student Government Association, will hold a rally Tuesday, April 2 at 4 p.m. at the Stephens Hall Tiger in support of Towson’s touted mission of diversity and for Loeschke. SGA has also started an online movement “#TUStands4” in the same vein.
“She’s the best president I’ve ever had at Towson,” Smith, a senior, said.
Lecia Brooks, the SPLC’s Director of Outreach, called on administration to publicly disavow the WSU, saying Loeschke has a “responsibility” to denounce the WSU’s ideals.
“It’s really important when hate groups pop up in communities for people to stand against them and release some sort of … statements against them—that they do not support them,” Brooks said. “For the life of me I can’t think why Towson hasn’t done that.”
In Loeschke’s statement Wednesday, she said that the values of the WSU are counter to Towson’s.
“The views of this non-affiliated group are diametrically opposed to the core values of Towson University and our commitment to diversity and non-discrimination,” she said in the statement