A handful of fliers found on Boise State University’s campus promoting a “Boise State Nationalists” club drew concern from some students and faculty via social media on Wednesday morning.
The people who posted them remain unknown, despite an effort by the Statesman to contact them following the morning’s strong reaction to their fliers.
Leslie Madsen-Brooks, an associate professor of history, said she learned of the fliers around 7 a.m. when a graduate student contacted her with a photo of a flier forwarded by another student. According to Chase Johnson, the university’s interim student organizations coordinator, the club is not recognized by the school, and no students have submitted paperwork to begin such an organization.
The posters feature a graphic of Captain America above text asking if people “have a problem with” a bulleted list of issues: “Immigration? Political correctness? Globalism? Marxism/Leftism? Male emasculation? Degeneracy?”
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“What pushed me over the edge and made me send it up the flagpole was ‘degeneracy.’ That’s a Nazi ideal,” Madsen-Brooks said, explaining that it’s a word often tied to eugenics. In the late 19th century, the degeneracy theory attributed mental and physical illnesses to immoral behavior and certain social groups, sometimes suggesting eradication or sterilization of those whose traits were deemed undesirable.
“Degeneracy is the dogwhistle,” she said. “It’s just an outright statement that ... some people, just by the nature of their very being, are less human than other people.”
A Statesman email to an address listed on the fliers was eventually returned Wednesday evening with what appeared to be a form message to all who contacted the account, saying that “due to the immediate and amazingly incorrect link to hatred and Nazi ideology by educators and local media, we’ve elected to postpone our initial meeting out of fear from retribution.”
The group, according to the message, is for “citizens of the United States, and proud Broncos that not only disagree with the level of insanity that modern culture is seemingly forcing upon everyone, but vehemently oppose it.” The reply encourages the recipient to watch their inbox for further information.
Madsen-Brooks said she alerted multiple campus officials “that can address it better than I can,” and hand-delivered one of the posters to President Bob Kustra’s office. She said she also brought the posters to the attention of the university’s disability rights advocacy office. And, she said Wednesday morning, university lawyers were currently discussing the situation.
She called herself “a big fan of the First Amendment,” and said this situation is nuanced — especially at a university, where ideas should be open for discussion. She called the other points on the poster “legitimate” topics that should be up for debate.
One student, however, took issue with other elements of the flier. Rubi Mendivil-Rabago, a senior majoring in political science, posted a photo of one of the fliers on Facebook early Wednesday morning. She said its anti-immigration rhetoric is xenophobic and promotes “ignorant bigotry.”
“When I initially found it I was surprised that it had been posted since Boise State has always been very vocal about promoting diversity and inclusion,” she said via Facebook messages. “It angered me because as a female first-generation student, it threatened everything I stand for.”
She added that she understands that free speech allows the group certain rights. But “by tying themselves to the university, they are not only being reckless but also endangering the reputation of the university. It is also inciting conflict amongst students on campus and can be viewed by a large group of students as a threat to safety,” she said.
Madsen-Brooks said the locations of the fliers, in areas where the university prohibits postings, lead her to believe that the individuals behind them are perhaps nervous their message will be shut down.
“The university has pretty strict rules for posting fliers on campus,” she said. “It’s either a group worried it won’t be sanctioned by the university, so they’re doing it in a guerrilla way, or someone from outside the campus.”
Both women said they saw connections to the recent presidential election. In her Facebook post, Mendivil-Rabago said she views the flier as a result of “bigoted rhetoric” used by President Donald Trump, who was inaugurated last week.
“The timing is interesting considering the emboldening of white supremacists around the Trump campaign,” Madsen-Brooks said, mentioning the Trump administration’s use of the slogan “America First,” which historically has ties to Nazi sympathizers. Trump after the November election disavowed white supremacist groups that celebrated his win.
Despite the controversy, Madsen-Brooks said she thinks the club could draw some members should it come to fruition.
“I think in any community there is quiet interest in that,” she said.
Greg Hahn, BSU’s associate vice president for communications and marketing, affirmed that university policy allows staff to remove the fliers, but emphasized “the content of the speech in question is protected by the First Amendment — as is the speech of those who vehemently disagree with it.” He said he expects facilities staff and others who enforce the fliers policy will remove any that violate it, and suggested students, faculty and others who want to discuss speech issues get involved with local campus groups and discussions.
Johnson couldn’t say how BSU would treat a formal request to establish such a club, pointing out that the university has a number of political organizations “that do a fantastic job.”
“We do abide by state nondiscrimination ordinances, and that’s a standard we hold all clubs to,” he said. “We also believe in freedom of speech. If they did want to register, that’s something I would broach at that time.”