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Stop Protesting the Alt-Right, Hate Group Watchdog Advises

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a guide for college students, warning that protests only give white nationalists the attention they so desperately crave.

Mitchell Sunderland

Mitchell Sunderland

Photo by Elijah Nouvelage via Getty Images

It's back-to-school season, which means some students are preparing for chaos on their college campuses. Last semester, students protested right-wing speakers everywhere from Alabama to California, and schools are worried about future visits from the alt-right, a new generation that mixes old-fashioned white nationalism with memes.

To assist concerned undergrads, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has released a guide called "The Alt-Right on Campus: What Students Need to Know" that advises students to deny alt-righters (or as SPLC puts it, "the fringe movement driven by a small group of bigoted young men") the attention the movement uses to boost its infamy and recruit more college-aged followers.

"The rise of the alt-right has left many students deeply concerned about hate on campus and asking what they can do to make a difference," Lecia Brooks, SPLC director of outreach, said in a press statement. "This guide provides answers. It not only shows students how to respond to a possible alt-right event, but how to inoculate your campus against such extremism before these speakers appear on campus."

The SPLC provides summaries of notable alt-righters, so students will know their beliefs and tactics before they arrive. The guide includes short biographies of men like Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer (tagline: "The World's Most Genocidal Republican Website"), and Richard Spencer, who created the term alt-right in 2008.

"Encouraged by his controversial and widely cov­ered appearance at Texas A&M in December 2016, Spencer launched a short-lived campus speak­ing tour," the SPLC writes. "Wearing a haircut patterned after Hit­ler youth, Spencer veers between dense academic monologues on identity and exuberant hijinks, such as holding a sign in public that reads: 'Wanna talk to a racist?'" Read together, the bios highlight how the alt-right will go to gratuitous means to get attention.

The most famous, and flamboyant, men listed, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and his ex-boss Steven Bannon, receive some of the longest biographies—but both have disavowed claims that they identify as white nationalists. In the past year, Yiannopoulos has successfully gotten media outlets, like the Los Angeles Times, to correct pieces that labeled him a "white nationalist."

Read more: How Taylor Swift Became a Nazi Icon

The SPLC hopes students will circulate these bios not to increase alt-righters' notoriety, but to prevent students from inviting Spencer and his ilk to campus. If the alt-right does announce plans to speak on campus, the SPLC encourages students to meet with a broad array of student groups.

"Approach the host group inviting an alt-right speaker to campus," the SPLC advises. Instead of attacking them, students should "make it clear this is not an anti-Trump campaign. This is an anti-racist campaign." The guide also gives provides sample questions to ask them: "Is it purely political? Is it to foster honest debate? Or is it sophomoric theater at the expense of fellow students?"

Although the SPLC tells students to ask groups to rescind speaking offers to prevent the alt-right from gaining more visibility, the non-profit acknowledges that federal law mandates that publicly-funded schools allow anyone to speak. Colleges are ripe ground for the alt-right, the manual says, because "students are curious and receptive to new, even radical, ideas."

But the SPLC reiterates that protesting a white nationalist speaker could backfire. "While there's nothing wrong with peaceful student protests against a hateful ideology, it's best to draw attention to hope instead," the guide states. "Hold an alternative event–away from the alt-right event–to highlight your cam­pus' commitment to inclusion and our nation's democratic values."

"Denying an alt-right speaker of such a spectacle," the pamphlet points out, "is the worst insult they can endure."