By Benjamin Solomon, Staff Writer
On Saturday, February 24, UMass Dartmouth’s Department of Public Safety sent out an email which stated that offensive fliers were found on campus, near the Liberal Arts building. The email did not specify exactly what the content of the flier was, nor why they were offensive.
The Torch sought more information from the Department of Public Safety, who directed questions to Vice Chancellor John Hoey of Public Affairs. Hoey gave a statement in response:
“What we consider very offensive fliers were discovered over near LARTS and they were taken down immediately, and the police are investigating to find out who put them up.”
Hoey continued, “There clearly was a violation of our community standards. There are rules against posting anything, anywhere, any time. These were especially offensive fliers, and so it was reasonable to take them down as soon as possible.”
It is true that the Supreme Court has established that freedom of speech is subject to reasonable time and place restrictions.
This means that as long as the reason for restricting speech is content-neutral (not because of what you’re saying) then it’s okay for the administration to confine free speech to a certain area.
For that reason, UMass Dartmouth has a “free speech zone” in the grassy area next to the campanile, where assembly is allowed from six a.m. to midnight.
Everywhere else on campus, freedom of speech is subject to regulation by the school, which has stirred contention in the past.
Similarly, the Supreme Court has also established that the government cannot enact a blanket ban on distributing literature (like these fliers).
The University likely finds the grounds to remove these fliers because this is not a matter of distribution. They do not aim to limit people from handing out these fliers. The act of putting up the fliers is what the school intends to regulate, probably as vandalism.
Hoey expanded on the statement, saying, “I think this is an issue that colleges and universities are facing across the country these days. There are organizations out there that have a particular strategy of fliering campuses and other organizations and the goal of them is to generate conflict and heat around an issue to elicit a response. We are choosing to do everything possible not to provide this person or persons with the kind of publicity that they seek.”
“So, we are just going to focus on trying to determine who did it and take action when we figure out the answer to that. It is important to understand that we reached out to the Anti-Defamation League in Boston. That group is experts in dealing with issues like this, so the way we respond to it is somewhat guided by their expertise.”
The Torch has also gotten ahold of one of these fliers. It is a red-white-and-blue picture of a man holding a wrench in front of an American flag, with text that says “Building a future. Preserving a nation. Patriot Front.”
This might not seem like anything to be offended about at first, but that is because the flier is meant to be subtle. What is most important is the words “Patriot Front,” which is the name of a white supremacist group.
The group has a manifesto which details their interests – mainly rejection of anyone who is not White, or who does not fit into their specific view of what culture should be. They particularly oppose Black and Jewish Americans, as well as immigrants.
The group also explicitly reject individualism and individual rights due to the idea of responsibility to behave in accordance with social expectations. This is part of the larger aspect of this group being fascist.
The word fascist comes from the word fasces, which is a bundle of rods with an axe head protruding. It was a symbol associated with fascist Italy in the early 1930s. Patriot Front uses a fasces with stars around it as their logo on their website.
Fascism is an ideology that peaked in popularity in the first half of the 20th century. It is authoritarian, hierarchical, and generally places an emphasis on viewing society as a large unit as opposed to individuals.
This is the ideology of the Nazis and their allies during the second World War, among others. As such, the group’s literature makes use of some language similar to that used by the Nazis.
Patriot Front is a group whose presence is mostly on the internet, with some instances of posting fliers on college campuses and participating in protests. This group has shown up in several states including California, Texas, Maryland, and others.
They have not been connected to any violent incidents, aside from being among many groups at the White nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, where three people died.
Right now, there is also no evidence that whoever posted these fliers is or is not connected to the UMass Dartmouth community in any way. If you would like to learn more about the parameters of confined freedom of speech at our university, contact the American Civil Liberties Union at 502-227-3186.