Students were met with fliers and stickers promoting Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, on the first day of the semester.
Chapman was bustling Aug. 26 as students, staff and faculty were back on campus for the first day of class. Some students were alarmed when stickers and posters belonging to Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, were found on top of posters promoting La Frontera, a semester- long series of events designed to examine “border issues, particularly those surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to Lisa Leitz, the event’s organizer and the chair of the department of Peace Studies.
“We already met and started initial investigation, but there are people and organizations claiming credit for doing it,” said Dean of Students Jerry Price. “There isn’t any way we are going to be able to confirm or rule out that they did, but we think it’s possible that those were accurate claims.
Patriot Front, which is based in Texas and broke off white supremacist group Vanguard America, became prominent after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to The Southern Poverty Law Center.
The incident comes a week after the release of a video revealing members of the boys water polo team at Pacifica High School engaging in anti-Semitic behavior
The Patriot Front fliers and stickers were also placed on some main campus busts, including those of former president of Mexico Benito Juarez and former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. There was no security camera footage capturing the incident, according to Randy Burba, chief of Public Safety.
“Diversity is against what they stand for,’’ said Pete Simi, a sociology professor and expert on extremist groups, when asked about the fliers. “This underscores why we need something like La Frontera. For every one person willing to put a flier, there are ten talking about immigration as an invasion.
Leitz has been planning La Frontera for a year.
The event consists of art exhibits, panels and expert guest speakers, and is designed to “encourage the campus and wider community to examine the controversial issues around borders.” Leitz planned the event because the primary mission of a university is to educate students, she said.
“I have a deep commitment of having conversations and dialogue on top issues,” Leitz told The Panther. “We have to talk about the tough issues. This is a very tough issue, one of the biggest issues in the last four years. I have never backed down to bring expertise to bear on important political issues, no matter how controversial. We are going to keep going, as safely as we possibly can.”
There are currently two La Frontera exhibits open, the “La Frontera-The Border: Selections from the Escalette Permanent Collection of Art,” located on the second floor of the Leatherby Libraries and “La Frontera-The Border: Art Across the Border,” located at the Guggenheim Gallery.
The events are designed to bring more awareness to issues around the Mexican-American border and immigration. On Oct. 17, there will be a panel about the undocumented migration trail project. On Nov. 15, there will be a presentation by Francisco Cantu, a former U.S. border patrol agent, whose book, “A Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border,” won the 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
“Border Click: Tijuana/San Diego,” will be set up by Sept. 4 and will be located on the second floor of Argyros Forum. The photography exhibit was created by high school students who are American citizens, but had to cross the Tijuana border every day in order to go to classes. The students will be speaking at the International Day of Peace event Sept. 19.
As part of La Frontera, holocaust survivor Peter Feigl will be present on a Sept. 24 lecture, “Words of Memory and Hope: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust.”
When asked about the Patriot Front fliers and stickers, Leitz said she was “appalled, but not shocked.”
“The political climate is very divisive, which has emboldened white nationalist organizations across the nation,” Leitz said. “I wasn’t surprised that at one point this semester, we would become a target, because even talking about the U.S.-Mexico border and learning about it is something that scares people in extremist organizations like white nationalists.”
Leitz was not the only person on campus who wasn’t startled by the drop. “It’s not surprising just because historically, there are moments when the LatinX movement starts to get power and traction. As soon as one side starts to go up, there is something to retaliate to push us down again,” said Elton Ortiz, the president of Chapman’s the LatinX club.
Ortiz said it is something they are aware of and know they have to deal with when wanting to take steps forward. “It seems like they were trying to get the point across that this is something they don’t believe in, this is something they don’t want to be welcomed in this community,” Ortize continued.
“As part of the LatinX community, it’s crazy to think about people being in your own community that don’t really accept you exist.” There is no threat to La Frontera at this time, Leitz said, but the art will be monitored more closely. “If and when there is or if there should be, we will address it. The worst thing we can be is intimidated,” she said. Burba said that Public Safety’s primary function is “to be prepared to facilitate a safe and civil environment.”
“We are always prepared, in conjunction with our local partners, to respond or facilitate a response to criminal threats and criminally threatening behavior,” Burba said. One day after the Patriot Front fliers were placed on campus, a poster was put up near Doti Hall which notified the community about a Chapman law student: “David M. Zsutty is a Nazi,” the poster read.
“David is a dues-paying member of the neo-nazi group Identity Evropa, now called American Identity Movement,” it read. “He used the alias ‘Tyler Hess’ on their private server.” The claims made in the poster could not be verified. Zsutty did not respond to The Panther’s request for comment. American Identity Movement – formerly known as Identity Evropa – is a “growing, active movement defending our nation against mass immigration and the scourge of globalism,” according to its website. The group has been linked to the 2017 Charlottesville protests, pro-border wall rallies, the Conservative Political Action Conference and recruitment efforts nationwide.
Large scale recruitment efforts by groups like Patriot Front and the American Identity Movement have recently increased, according to reports conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and reporting efforts from publications including The Washington Post and National Public Radio.
Two other local universities have been subject to fliers: the University of California, Irvine, and California State University, Fullerton. Fullerton’s campus police have been aware of the recruitment efforts on campus for multiple years, as white supremacy groups have frequented the university. The American Identity Movement has been to Cal State Fullerton three times in the past two years, according to Scot Willey, the administrative captain of the Cal State Fullerton Police Department.
“We have tried to narrow down to the time and day that fliers were being posted,” Willey said, noting that the campus has over 500 surveillance cameras. No person responsible for the fliers at Cal State Fullerton has been identified.
“I want my club and the community around here to feel safe,” Ortiz said. “Whoever is out there can know there are people from the LatinX community that if you feel unsafe or don’t feel like you are in the right place, we are here for them. We can try to facilitate those things so they don’t feel uncomfortable in this Chapman setting.”