One day in May, Tommy Curry, an African American philosophy professor at Texas A&M University, woke up to a slew of death threats and hate mail on his voicemail and in his email inbox.
Although it wasn’t the first time Curry had received death threats, he was shocked by the “constant barrage” of messages threatening his life and those of his wife and children.
“You and your family of African baboons might need to get killed,” a message said. The next one was not less threatening: “Crackers are coming to get your black ass.”
For weeks, Curry received these messages, often accompanied by images of monkeys with guns in their mouths or African Americans being lynched.
It all started after several right-wing news sites and blogs affiliated with the alt-right and blogs distributed a seven-year-old podcast in which Curry discussed the history of slave rebellions and black self-defence against white supremacy in the United States.
“I said [in the podcast] that black people didn’t simply fantasize about rebelling against their owners, and that we should understand the role that violence played in the liberation of black people,” recalls Curry, whose research focuses on modern black civil rights struggles and the history of black self-defence in the US.
Curry argues that the death threats, as well as the university’s failure to sternly address them, highlight crucial issues of racism, free speech and academic freedom on campuses today.
Curry’s case is part of broader pattern of white supremacists targeting US campuses since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Between the November 8 election of Trump and April, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) watchdog documented 1,863 hate crimes, at least 330 of which took place on university campuses. In the 10 days following Trump’s election alone, the monitor recorded an average of 87 hate incidents a day. This is five times the daily average of hate crimes recorded by the FBI in 2015.
Despite the national outrage, President Trump has decided not to address the issue. Instead, his silent has served as a tacit endorsement of hate groups. As a result, the hate crimes continue on the rise.
In May, Richard W Collins, an African American Bowie State University student, was visiting the campus of the University of Maryland when he was stabbed to death by white supremacist Sean Christopher Urbanski.
Authorities are investigating the incident as a hate crime due to Urbanski’s involvement in a Facebook group titled the “Alt-Reich”, which refers to the German Third Reich and the alt-right. The page is chock-full of racist incitement directed at ethnic and religious minorities, primarily black Americans.
At Minnesota’s St Olaf College, at least two African American students found notes on their property with racist language. One read: “Go back to Africa.”
Also in May, an incident at Washington, DC’s American University prompted the FBI involvement in an investigation into a hate crime that targeted the school’s first African American, female student-government president.
On the morning she took office, Taylor Dumpson received a message that bananas, tied with nooses, had been hung across the school grounds.
The bananas were marked with “AKA FREE”, a reference to Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority of which Dumpson was a member, and “HARAMBE BAIT”, which appears to refer to a gorilla that was killed at an Ohio zoo last year after a child had fallen into its enclosure.
“I immediately went into panic mode and shock,” Dumpson says. “Within a few hours, my parents were down at campus and … we were trying to prepare ourselves for what was being investigated as a hate crime.”
A few days later that she became the victim of a second attack. In the middle of taking on her new leadership role, Dumpson noticed unusual activity on her personal Facebook page after a well-known white supremacist called their members to troll her. Statements such as “that’s a good comment for a black girl” or what Dumpson describes as other “insensitive comments” started to appear on a number of her posts.
But it didn’t stop there. Dumpson also said that Swastikas had been drawn on a dry erase board and sexist posters hung throughout the campus on International Women’s Day.
The university’s president, Neil Kerwin, “strongly condemned” what he called the “crude and racially insensitive act of bigotry”.
She further explains that given the “current climate in the US”, it is the responsibility of the university and community to prevent such attacks from happening again.
“Specifically, as a result of the 2016 election cycle, white supremacists have become more comfortable,” Dumpson says, referring to Trump’s election.
“I think the most threatening part is that we’re beginning to see this rise up again because people feel comfortable and they feel empowered to have these kinds of beliefs, and that’s terrifying.”
White supremacists recruit
Such incidents come at a time of increasing white supremacist campaigns at US universities and colleges. The SPLC has documented more than 135 incidents of white supremacist and white nationalist recruitment efforts on US campuses since Trump won the election in November.
In February, American Vanguard, a white supremacist group founded in 2016, announced on its website the “Texas Offensive”, a campaign of hanging flyers and posters on walls of a swath of campuses.
“It’s a definite uptick and they’ve been making a concerted effort to flyer and paper as many campuses as they possibly can,” Lecia Brooks, the SPLC’s outreach director, told reporters. She says the campaigning has notably increased since the rise of Donald Trump.
“It shouldn’t be hidden,” Brooks says, adding that the incidents have been documented at schools across the country.
“There are white supremacists who will come to kill people, and who have killed people, over the last several months for less than simply speaking about the issue,” she concludes, arguing that the recent rise in white supremacy is not detached from actual violence: “Murders have always been used to enforce racism.”
These terrorists must be stopped, and the only way to do it is by kicking Donald Trump and his Republican enablers out of power.