Dec. 7, 2006: MSU Student Club Likely Hate Group

This article is part of a series commemorating the 30th anniversary of Pride Source's print publication, Between The Lines

Before terms like "alt-right" and personalities like Richard Spencer rose to national prominence, Between The Lines had already uncovered the nascent rebranding of white nationalism into a well-heeled so-called intellectual movement. 

In 2006, we reported that Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at MSU would likely be declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In spring of 2007, that happened, making the student organization the first university-recognized hate group in SPLC’s hate tracking program’s history. 

Unraveling the obscured white supremacy agenda of the organization started with a simple question: What is a hate group? This arose after I covered YAF protesting the Lansing City Council. They were upset that the body would adopt a non-discrimination ordinance that would include LGBTQ+ people. It was a move that took over a decade, a ballot initiative and a new City Council to accomplish. 

Standing in front of Lansing City Hall, one protester held a sign that read “Straight Power.” 

Kyle Bristow was the head of the organization at the time. He claimed in 2007 the listing in the SPLC hate group findings was wrong. His organization was not like the KKK. He wasn’t wrong. His group used a pseudo-intellectual set of arguments and events to stoke white grievance and white supremacy. His blog drove claims of Western superiority, now proudly touted by the Proud Boys as “Western Chauvinism." After the listing, former Michigan Republican Party Chair Saul Anuzis called Bristow “exactly the sort of kid we want” in the GOP during a radio interview. 

Bristow’s partner in the disruptive activities of white supremacy at Michigan State University was a Texas lawyer named Jason VanDyke. 

Both would go on to hold substantial roles in pushing the legal infrastructure of the white supremacy agenda in the U.S. Bristow, as an attorney, claims to have worked to allow the Charlottesville, Virginia “Unite the Right” rally in the summer of 2017. The rally devolved into violence with one woman killed by a white supremacy supporter driving his car into a crowd. Bristow also sued MSU to allow Richard Spencer to host a speaking engagement at the university. A settlement allowed the white supremacy “thought leader” to speak during spring break in March 2018. The appearance resulted in violent clashes between anti-racist activists, white supremacy advocates and law enforcement. 

That 2006 report by BTL was a warning of the rise of a new form of white supremacy. It was ignored for years, allowing it to fester. But the signs of danger were there, and BTL was instrumental in pinning the rising tide to the wall for all to see.