“We are in no way defending [the Proud Boys],” Isiah De Alba, the University of Oregon College Republicans political director, told the UO student government senate, “in any way, shape, or form.”
You heard it there – they do not defend the Proud Boys, despite posing with them for pictures . No need for all of this panic and hysteria; they are not white supremacists!
In some corner of the world, maybe, there might be some unreasonable person who still doesn’t feel satisfied in that honest and vulnerable statement. For them, the Associated Students of the University of Oregon unanimously passed a resolution during that senate meeting with the club, condemning white supremacy and requiring cultural competency training for all organization leaders.
Clearly, all avenues that lead to white supremacy are covered. Racism has been eradicated from our campus. Our administration must feel so confident in this response that they need not comment on the matter. Because they haven’t. Not a single word. Not a single action. Silence.
One could argue, of course, that silence is the only response possible for the administration. Is it not violating the First Amendment to challenge the College Republicans’ asserted political belief in white supremacy?
From this point of view, the lack of action is actually virtuous; the university’s lack of action protects our nation’s most valuable freedom. To expect anything different means that the university must take a side by defining right and wrong. And that would corrupt the passive omnipresence of institutions, right?
But universities actually have had no trouble taking sides on First Amendment issues relating to clubs. It just matters what views they’re voicing: non-White ones.
Just compare the outcome of this scenario to one that parallels it. 10 years ago, UC Irvine suspended their university’s student Muslim group. During a speech given on their public campus by Israel’s ambassador, the group was accused of being “planned, orchestrated and coordinated” to interrupt a speech and point out the genocide of innocent Palestinians, according to the Los Angeles Times. Their charges? “Participation in a disturbance of the peace.”
The nation’s exalting of free speech flies out the window when it is utilized by Muslims and non-Whites. Further research shows how universities have no trouble shutting down clubs with names like the “Women of Color Club” or the “Mexican Cultural Club,” both of which were at Brigham Young University, Idaho. When voices threaten White institutions, their rhetoric changes to demonize those disturbing the peace. Selective condemning of some and silence when it comes to those like the College Republicans reveals one thing: the university’s silence is not some altruistic defense of First Amendment rights.
Indeed, the inability to muster the backbone to act in the face of white supremacy is a far deeper disease – it stems from the fact that nationalism lurks beneath the Republican ideology, a party that we have chosen to legitimize.
Historically, fringe-right Republicans have always been a part of the Republican agenda. In 1964, George Wallace became popular for his nationalist, segregationist stances that were rooted in populism. Despite Wallace being unable to bad-mouth his way into presidency, Nixon adopted the same principles into the conventional Republican agenda, meaning he made a more palatable version of white supremacy by “herald[ing] a less malevolent version of Wallace’s crusade against 1960s liberalism,” wrote Jonathan Reider in his book, “Rise of the Silent Majority.”
This extends all the way to today. Just look at how quickly the College Republicans were acquitted by those in power. By merely saying that they weren’t a part of the Proud Boys, they distance themselves from outright Islamophobia and xenophobia, medieval stances on gender and fascism. They can then calmly return to the current Republican party, with such subdued stances of putting children in cages, taking women’s rights to their bodies and advocating for military-grade weapons to be in the hands of ordinary citizens.
Framed like this, their actual beliefs are not that different – it is just different expressions that hides the same monster. While we all can say that fascism is bad, no one dares say that the Republican party itself is predicated on hate. However, no one can challenge the party, so no one can delegitimize white supremacy. Silence, then, is not a First Amendment issue; it is the only option in a nation that legitimized a party with hate at its core.
When we allow white Supremacists to hide behind legitimized Republican-ism to avoid “further polarization,” but do not extend the same benefit of the doubt to Muslim groups and others, we see that free speech is just a facade for protecting and legimitimizing White ideology while constitutionally silencing others.
Silence from the university actively maintains white male supremacy and a written rebuke of it by ASUO does nothing that hasn’t been done before. Take a moment to consider that UOCR literally asserted that they will not “condemn” the Proud Boys. To not condemn them is to be a part of them, and ASUO’s failure to act on that undeniable fact is to endorse them.
There is only one option: the College Republicans must be suspended, delegitimized by stripping its name and punished like all groups immersed in fascist ideology that came before them.
Without doing so, the University directly looks at those like me, an Iranian, and other minorities who the Proud Boys vocally despise and engender violence against because we are deserving of subhuman treatment, and say that our safety on our own campus means less than staying silent in the face of those who choose to endorse white supremacy.