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EAST LANSING – When the 2006 Hate Group list is released by the Southern Poverty Law Center at the end of April, it will include a recognized Michigan State University student group.
The group, Young Americans for Freedom, will be the first university sponsored hate group the SPLC is aware of, says Heidi Beirich, Deputy Director of the Intelligence Project of the SPLC. While the listing is more symbolic than anything else, the list is monitored by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in assisting them to identify groups they should monitor, and if necessary take action against.
“They will be listed, based on their 13 point agenda,” says Beirich
Beirich says the new list will include 844 identified hate groups ranging from Christian Identity groups, to Black Nationalists, to MSU YAF. The 2005 list included only 803 such groups. Michigan will see no change in its reported number of hate groups, 25, even with the inclusion of MSU YAF.
In December 2006, BTL reported that MSU YAF was under investigation by SPLC as a hate group. The group had issued an agenda that included the elimination of minority student organizations, the creation of a white council, the creation of a men’s council, and hunting down and deporting illegal immigrants in the Lansing area. In addition, the group had protested the city of Lansing’s human rights ordinance, carrying such signs as “End Faggotry” and “Straight Power.” The group drew the most conflict and controversy with its planned “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day.”
The report resulted in YAF spokesperson Joanna Varnavas resigning her public post as spokesperson for the group and condemning the hate speech of its leader, Kyle Bristow.
She had no comment on the announcement of the group being listed as a hate group.
Bristow, the author of the MSU YAF agenda, has not returned phone calls and emails on this matter at presstime.
Terry Denbow, spokesperson for MSU says the institution is concerned about the label, but with reservations. “What I AM saying is that MSU will not tolerate – not only be ‘concerned” about’ – violations of the anti-discrimination criteria that are inherent in the obligations of all registered student organizations,” Denbow wrote in an email to BTL. “We stand by our commitment and our criteria. To be sure, external organizations – on the right, on the left, and in the center – often disagree with the nature and policies of student groups, based upon their own criteria. But we must remain steadfast in our commitment to institutionally developed criteria for registered student organizations. We certainly are not saying we necessarily ‘agree with’ the beliefs of any student group – we are saying they all must ‘agree to’ abide by our criteria. When those criteria are proven to be violated, we do indeed respond.”
BTL documented at least two violations by the organization in December 2006. The group was not holding regular meetings in spring of 2006, nor was the group upholding the expectations set forth in the advisor agreement. Denbow failed to comment on those violations.
Bistow’s leadership is beginning to be questioned not only by Varnavas, but by high ranking College Republicans, a group that is heavily linked to YAF. Because they share many of the same members, they alternate Wednesdays to meet, allowing both groups to gather and not interfere with the other.
“Kyle can go around talking about his political mastermind,” one College Republican wrote anonymously, fearing retribution from the group. “But the fact is, he took a group with great intentions, the YAF, and turned it into a group soon to be classified as a ‘hate group.’ I can’t really disagree with that classification.”
The agreement with the hate group label, the writer noted, is because Bristow has caused so much controversy in the minority community with his Michigan Civil Rights Initiative support, his anti-illegal immigration events and his anti-gay protests that he has fostered an environment of hate. This CR member lays the responsibility for violence that disrupted an appearance by extreme homophobe Rep. Tom Tancredo in November 2006 at Bristow’s feet.
“Kyle can go around championing that he ‘guided a pregnant woman to safety,’but the reality is that none of that (protests and violence that erupted at the Tancredo event) would have occurred without his influence on the YAF,” the CR member wrote.
He then went on to note that in order to protect both YAF and College Republicans, Bristow should be impeached, his actions denounced, and apologies made to those offended by YAF’s actions under Bristow’s leadership.
Bristow remains the chairman of YAF, and to date there is no documented motion to remove him as chair.
BTL has also discovered that prior to the Tom Tancredo appearance on campus in November 2006, Bristow and YAF went around campus writing on the sidewalks “Deport Pedro,” denigrating the hispanic student population.
As a registered student group at MSU, YAF is eligible for use of MSU buildings at no cost, discounts on university services and food, and account management by the University. They are also eligible for funds from the Associated Students of Michigan State University, the student governance body of MSU.
Henry Silverman, Vice President of the ACLU of Michigan, and a retired MSU professor with 37 years, says the University has failed in its job. “No, they shouldn’t have ignored it. They should have addressed it,” he says of the allegations outlined in BTL in December 2006. “It certainly is a violation of the spirit of the anti-discrimination policies, if not the letter.”
MSU Police say they have no investigation of the group, nor did they know they were under investigation by the SPLC, although a spokesperson for the department did praise the SPLC’s work and told BTL she was glad the organization provided the hate list.
“A police report would have to be filed and we would investigate that. If nothing has been filed with our department we certainly can’t investigate anything,” MSU spokesperson Sgt. Florene McGlowthian-Taylor says.
But MSU Police have not always relied on police reports to instigate undercover investigations of student groups. In 2000, with concerns about the safety of the president of the World Bank who would be providing the commencement speech at MSU, the department sent an officer undercover to investigate Students for Economic Justice.
MSU officials told the State News they had done so because members of the student group had been arrested at protests of the World Bank in Seattle and Washington D.C.
When asked why MSU police had not instituted a similar investigation on YAF as a result of reports they might be listed as a hate group, Taylor responded, “That’s a good question.”
“They certainly should be looking at the other side of the spectrum,” Silverman says. “The bias goes beyond the university. We have traditionally looked at leftist, or socialist or what have you groups with concern, while turning a blind eye to the right. It shouldn’t come as a great surprise, but it doesn’t make it right.”