Chapman was voted one of the top three safest college campuses for Jewish students in the U.S., despite Orange County having many neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and Holocaust denier “strongholds.”
Southern California has long been a central location for hate group activity. Of the 78 hate groups in California, 38 of them are located in Southern California, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Despite being located in one of the nation’s epicenters of white supremacist organizations, Chapman was named one of the safest college campuses for Jewish students in the U.S. in an article published Aug. 17 by Forward College Guide.
“I feel safe at Chapman because there are several organizations like Chapman Hillel, Chapman Chabad and the Rodgers Center for the Holocaust that supports Judaism,” said Raizi Simons, senior communications studies major and vice president of Chapman Hillel. “I feel safe in Orange County while being on Chapman’s campus.”
Chapman scored “perfect” in the safety category which was based on factors like the number of anti-Semitic incidents, campus crime rate, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and the city’s crime rate, according to Forward College Guide, but Orange County has a long history with hate group activity, said Chapman professor Pete Simi.
“We could go back to the 1920s. In terms of the Ku Klux Klan, Anaheim was especially a stronghold for the Klan,” Simi said. “Or, more recently, going back to the ‘80s and ‘90s, you had different kinds of neo-Nazi groups that were active here … Now, you see groups like the Rise Above Movement, a white supremacist group, which is not exclusively in Orange County, but it has a stronghold in Orange County.”
Atomwaffen Division, a “very radical group,” also has a presence in the area, he said.
“They’re not at all bashful about talking about Nazism. They associate with Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson,” Simi said. “They say ‘Yeah, we’re absolutely white supremacists, we’re neo-Nazis, we believe the genocide of the Holocaust. Not enough Jews were killed, we need to do another run at it and kill even more people.’”
Anywhere there are white supremacists, there will be people who deny the Holocaust too, Simi said.
“There’s a range. You have some people that will say the Holocaust never happened, and they engage in that kind of denial, and then you have some people that will say the Holocaust did happen and we need to do it again,” he said.
The Holocaust denial goes along with the propaganda that these groups produce, Simi said. One group that focuses on Holocaust denial in Orange County is the Institute for Historical Review, which is based in Newport Beach.
College campuses across the nation saw a substantial increase in the presence of white supremacist activity from 2016 to 2017, Simi said.
“Nationwide, we know that this is a real problem on the rise. We know it’s a problem locally, too,” he said.
There are hate groups present at University of California, Irvine and San Diego State University, Simi said, and one group, called Identity Europa, focuses on college campuses in Orange County, but Simi hasn’t seen this group at Chapman.
Matthew Drucker, sophomore accounting and finance major and member of Chapman Hillel, said he has never felt unsafe at Chapman.
“Sometimes people make jokes, like stupid jokes, but I don’t think they mean it,” Drucker said. Drucker is “shocked” to hear that there are so many hate groups based in Orange County, he said.
“I’m not going to argue, people can believe what they want to believe, that’s fair. I think it’s kind of sad that they have to join groups and disrespect people,” he said. “You can disagree with our faith, but you don’t need to make a point of it. Let us have our beliefs.”
In light of events like Charlottesville, where a planned white supremacy rally on Aug. 12, 2017, by white supremacists turned into a violent clash that left one person dead and about three dozen injured according to CBS News, Drucker said he still feels safe in the country’s political climate.
“There’s always going to be events that happen everywhere in every country,” he said. “I’m not really worried about where this country is going because there’s always still those people that give you faith in humanity.”