Over the weekend, the University of Texas at Austin became the latest Texas university to be hit with fliers by a white nationalist group. The state arm of the American Vanguard, a national organization, is carrying out what it calls “The Texas Offensive,” a seemingly ongoing effort to post the group’s fliers on university campuses across the state. Prior to UT Austin, the American Vanguard claims they have also posted fliers at Texas State University, Rice University, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas, Collin College, and Abilene Christian University.
According to posts from the Vanguard Texas Twitter account, the fliers at UT Austin were posted on the night of February 12. Some of the fliers posted on campus asked people to “imagine a Muslim-free America” and called for the reporting of “any and all illegal aliens.” One poster was placed on a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. and read, “Carry the torch of your people” over an image of white men. On Twitter, the group captioned the pictures with “Happy #BlackHistoryMonth.” Many UT Austin students called for action from the school administration on social media. UT’s President Greg Fenves tweeted later that day, “Longhorns stand together,” and that diversity and inclusion are top priorities for the university. The tweet also linked to a statement from J.B. Bird, UT’s Director of Media Relations, which read:
This morning, staff at The University of Texas at Austin discovered signs on the Student Activity Center, College of Liberal Arts and the Sanchez building containing political messages aimed at immigrants, minorities and Muslims. The signs, some of which were affixed with adhesive, are in the process of being removed. The university vigorously supports free speech, but posting signs of any nature on the outside of university buildings is not allowed under campus rules. Additionally, as per policy, only students and student organizations are allowed to post signage in approved spaces on campus. The campus is reserved for the use of students, faculty, staff and their invited guests. Any person coming onto campus damaging or defacing university property is subject to criminal prosecution.
Neither the tweet or the statement directly addresses or condemns the contents of the fliers.
The American Vanguard website warns in bold letters that “AMERICA IS UNDER ATTACK.” The rest of the website, especially the group’s manifesto, makes it clear that they mean white America, specifically, is under attack. On Twitter the organization retweets the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and frequently uses the hashtag #MakeAmericanWhiteAgain. In typical white supremacist fashion, they prefer not be called white supremacists, nevermind that the fact that their posters, tweets, and blog posts call for the establishment of a “white America.”
The attempt to market themselves as something other than white supremacists isn’t new. But what makes the American Vanguard stand out from other groups is the concentrated effort to recruit on college campus. They are specifically seeking out a young white audience, something that the group notes on its website. And according to an interview the American Vanguard’s anonymous vice commander conducted with the Mercury, the UT Dallas student newspaper, their recruitment efforts are working:
Although American Vanguard keeps the identity of its members anonymous, he said he has received a “few” emails from people interested in the group following the flier campaign.
“A lot of our movement is made up of youth — people who do go to colleges and people that are a bit younger,” he said. “That’s kind of the target demographic.”
American Vanguard has targeted other universities around the country and has individual handles for subchapters in 21 states. The group seems to be reacting to actions from the Trump administration (#MakeAmericaWhiteAgainst mimics his popular rally cry). The appearance of their posters at UT Dallas coincided with an executive order Trump signed barring travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, and the fliers at UT Austin followed increased raids by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement across the country, including Austin.
“Trump is a representation of white America — whether he likes it or whether he knows it or not,” the group’s vice commander told the Houston Press. “I think what he’s doing is… uh… he’s kind of defending it. Not explicitly, but he’s doing things that are helpful for it.”