With the alt-right crying out for legitimacy, we gave them the chance to explain themselves. All we got was a big “fuck you … ”
On January 29th 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old with “extreme right-wing views” killed six people and wounded 19 others at mosque in Quebec City.
Notorious for posting vicious, alt-right leaning comments on social media, Bissonnette was described by friends as having “ultra-nationalist white-supremacist" beliefs.
But, before he became a terrorist, Bissonnette was a student. Prior to the attack, he was studying political science and anthropology at Laval University.
This is an important facet not just of Bissonnette, but of the growing, and increasingly violent alt-right movement on North American college campuses that’s lead to a rash of so-called “white student unions,” campus organizations that provide a “safe space to support and promote the interests of students of European descent.” And while that sounds like an obvious euphemism for 'college KKK,' it apparently doesn’t to the hundreds of college students that have joined these groups over the past few years.
Since 2015, white student union Facebook pages have cropped up at dozens of universities across the country — and not just in the conservative places you’d expect. Currently, historically liberal-minded schools like Harvard, Stanford, Penn State, UCLA, UC Berkeley, the University of Missouri and NYU (along with many others) are now home to these groups. And, while it’s unclear whether their pages exist solely as social media lounges for trolls or legitimate, university-sanctioned unions, the pages themselves are indicative that the alt-right has infiltrated college campuses to a considerable and unsettling degree.
Problem is, no one’s talking about it. Not even white student unions.
The group has a mission statement which reads as follows on their website:
1. To genuinely explore ethnic and cultural politics in a forum which does not exclude rightist or conservative perspectives.
2. To organize for and advance the interests of Western peoples.
3. To promote and celebrate Western Civilisation.
That all sounds like a giant, racist dog whistle. Add to it a website that looks like it’s from 1998, a blog section that looks like a Tumblr page your friend started before promptly abandoning it the following weekend, and a Facebook page that’s a hilariously piss-poor collection of memes and half-baked right-wing philosophies, it’s easy to write the group off as a complete joke.
Intrigued by what they were getting at, we reached out and extended an opportunity to tell us who they were and what they were about.
Basically all we got back was a big fuck you.
The group is incredibly anonymous. They wouldn't talk to us, even though we gave them the opportunity to explain their views. And after we reached out to followers of the group for possible interviews, Students For Western Civilisation continued to assert (via direct message) that the people who we were speaking with were not official group members.
When one follower of the group, Jack Aitchkay, did get back to us, he simply replied with: “I took one look at your website, this is the only response I can give:”
And then he sent us a link to this video … which not only seemed like receiving a death threat in the form of a bad Tim and Eric sketch, but did very little to inform us what their message was our why we should take them seriously.
As the alt-right cries out for legitimacy, there we were, offering them a chance to be real and even distance themselves from an act of extreme violence (we asked them about Bissonnette, being that they're Canadian), and they essentially told us, in no uncertain terms, to go fuck ourselves.
… Good talk.
Finally, one group follower, Arno Shoujounian, agreed to speak with us. We asked him why he was spending his time encouraging and engaging with the group.
“Well, they attracted me, because they talk in defense of Western Civilization values, norms and cultures. They are against left-wing agendas of multiculturalism and cultural marxism,” said Shoujounian. “I wouldn't call them white supremacists or some kind of KKK, not at all. They are just a student group, like the ones for Muslims or Blacks; they just decided to form a student group for whites.”
He went on to say that he doesn’t think white student unions are inherently racist.
“Although, because of their act and courage to form such a group for whites, they have been accused of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and for diffusing hateful activities. None of that is true,” he continued. “I think, in today's society all of the Western countries are facing the same reality of anti-white racism. This is marginalizing the native populations of Europe and North America, and this is why you are presently seeing the rise of Nationalism, the rise of that consciousness to protect and defend its people's identity, across the West and the group of Students for Western Civilization is part of that rising force.”
That's what we were looking for — some sort of rationale. Yet it's interesting that it took so much effort to get one person from a white student union to speak to us at all. What's a movement if only one person is willing to verbalize its legitimacy? Not much of one, which is probably the reason many of the student groups tend to be confined to Facebook where they can incite hurtful comments and act on useless meme-ing from a safe distance where they're not required to provide an understandable message communicated compellingly to a larger audience.
The exception to this seems to be Towson University’s White Student Union, which is led by Matthew Heimbach. His group is unique in that they're visible on campus, but they too seem to be subject to the same sort of crude messaging and disorganization that Students for Western Civilisation are. In fact, Heimbach's method of taking a stand for what they believe was notably shoving and yelling at black protestors during a Trump rally last year.
What’s become extremely obvious, is that practically nobody wants to talk about white student unions … not even white student unions. There's been very limited press on the topic in this country, and only slightly more than that in Canada, where white college groups are fast-becoming popular in spite of a doe-eyed, handsome Prime Minister with a well-documented appreciation for immigrants and people of color.
However, at a time like this, we have to talk about it.
It’s not pleasant to hear what racists have to say. It’s not fun to accept that people believe what white supremacists believe. It’s easy to write it off as trolling and people being “insensitive.”
But you have to call this out for what it is. Hate speech. And in this case it’s the kind of hate speech that led to a mass shooting.
White student unions shouldn’t be swept under the rug. That’s where they want to be. That’s where they can operate.
It seems like colleges and universities across North America want it this way. However, that's where someone like Alexandre Bissonnette thrives and plots undetected before inciting a tragedy like the one in Quebec.
Cowards don’t want to be in the open. They don’t want to be exposed. They don’t want to be challenged.
Shitty for them, we'll keep challenging them. And we hope you do, too.