If there is a void in the conservative movement, a group of college students thinks it can be filled with culture warriors fighting for “Western Civilization.”
Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) debuted this year as a co-sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual political event commonly known as CPAC. Since that time, chapters have emerged on eight college campuses – not without controversy. With stated opposition to “radical multiculturalism, political correctness, racial preferences, mass immigration, and socialism,” the group has drawn early critics who view its members as intolerant at best, and linked to white supremacists at worst.
Adding fuel to the criticism is Youth For Western Civilization’s chosen “honorary chairman,” the former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo, a Colorado Republican known for his anti-immigration stance, was invited by YWC to speak last week on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Furious that he'd been invited to campus, protesters interrupted Tancredo's talk, drawing their own accusations of intolerance while decrying Tancredo and his hosts for intolerance at the same time.
“We’re still considered probably by most students to be sort of a rogue group right now,” said Riley Matheson, president of the Carolina chapter. “I think that that played a large part in creating the atmosphere of Tuesday night.”
If YWC has been relegated to “rogue” status, it’s no doubt in part due to the concerns expressed by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center recently published an article about YWC on its Hatewatch Web site, alleging links between the group and “white nationalists.” Matheson and other YWC members scoff at these claims, which they view as part of an ongoing effort to vilify “right wing” policy positions.
“When they didn’t like the fact that we want to enforce immigration [laws], what did they say? They said we were haters; they said we were white supremacists,” Matheson said. “The culture of this university is such that left wing activism is OK, [but] right wing activism isn’t.”
Tancredo’s speech was abruptly cut short when protestors shouted him down and then proceeded to break a window. Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp has apologized to Tancredo for the incident and promised an investigation that could lead to criminal charges or disciplinary action.
Group Aims to Groom Leaders
Youth for Western Civilization is the brainchild of Kevin DeAnna, a graduate student studying international relations at American University. DeAnna’s goals are significant. Far from merely launching a self-described “right wing” advocacy group, DeAnna wants to groom like-minded students for positions of power within the university.
“You go to a typical campus, and in my opinion your college Republicans will be even better organized than the college Democrats,” DeAnna said. “It will all be very organized and everything else, but that’s not who controls the campus. Who controls the campus is this constellation of groups based on ethnic identity. … This is where you get the far left stuff that gets shoved down everyone’s throat.”
DeAnna aims to place his members in groups that allocate student funds, giving them a say in university priorities.
If anything gets DeAnna and his cohorts worked into frenzy, it’s the growth of groups on college campuses that cater to specific students based on race or culture. Think black, Asian and Latino student unions. Some of YWC’s harshest critics have emerged from these groups, and DeAnna says he sees some irony in that fact.
“When they start advocating for the abolition of all these groups based on race … then I can take their charges seriously,” he said.
Frank Dobson, director of the Bishop Joseph Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt University, has questioned the motives of the YWC chapter on his campus. Dobson said last week that he was worried the group may be using “coded language,” signaling intolerance without overtly expressing it. He went further in an interview with The Tennessean, saying he wondered if Youth for Western Civilization is “a euphemism for white civilization.”
“I would love to be able to speak with them to get a sense of what really is in their heart and their head regarding starting the group on campus,” Dobson told Inside Higher Ed.
“I do think what we have to realize in a much larger sense … is that when we look at the political landscape, with an African American president, there are going to be instances of backlash towards what he represents, what his administration represents, and the types of changes that are going on on college campuses across the nation.”
YWC's Web site does not list its member chapters, but DeAnna says groups have formed or are organizing on eight campuses. The campuses include the University of Connecticut, Vanderbilt, American University, Elon University, Carolina, Providence College, Bentley University and the University of Rhode Island.
YWC’s stated mission is guided or at least informed by the views often espoused by David Horowitz, a conservative critic who claims professors routinely indoctrinate students with liberal ideology. The group also joins a longstanding chorus of critics who suggest quintessential American figures like George Washington get short shrift as colleges craft curriculums designed for multicultural inclusion.
“Group identity pandering and things like that give way to history and things people should know if they’re living in a Western country,” said Devin Saucier, vice president and co-founder of Vanderbilt’s YWC chapter.
Saucier cites Brown University’s recent decision to stop recognizing Columbus Day as an example of antagonism many institutions have toward the history of Western civilization.
College Republicans Not on Board
The YWC’s agenda has some overlap with the platform of the Republican Party, but the group has defined itself in some ways as an opposition movement. The Republican party dodged red meat issues like immigration during the 2008 campaign, and its losses were in part a consequence of that, Saucier said. The YWC seeks to highlight the very issues that Republican groups have decided to place on the back burner, he said.
“The left has taken over the country,” Saucier said. “This is a very urgent thing. This not something where we can sit in a room in coats and ties like College Republicans and discuss how bad it’s going to suck.”
But the approach of YWC counters the “big tent” strategy that many argue Republicans will have to employ if they hope to return to power. To that end, some College Republicans have already started to distance themselves from the YWC.
“In some ways the YWC could hurt the Republican party,” said Anthony Dent, treasurer of the College Republicans chapter at Carolina. “But at least on UNC’s campus, I don’t see that happening because the leadership structures are distinct, and I think we made it clear that College Republicans do not share the aims of YWC.”
While College Republicans may not be rushing to join forces with the YWC, the group has managed to garner financial backing from the Leadership Institute, an organization based in Arlington, Va. that bills itself as a “training ground” for conservative leaders. The institute funded Tancredo’s visit to Carolina, along with a speech by Bay Buchanan at Vanderbilt, DeAnna said. Buchanan, former U.S. treasurer and sister of conservative pundit Pat Buchanan, was met with protest when she spoke at the university about the need for immigrants to “assimilate.”
DeAnna is deputy field director for the Leadership Institute, but he says he does not play a role in deciding where the institute provides funding. The YWC chapters had to submit competitively reviewed applications for funding just as any other group would have, DeAnna said.
Founders' Connections Questioned
If there’s concern about Youth For Western Civilization, some of it stems from questions about its leadership. The Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] raised particular concerns about the group’s connections to Marcus Epstein, a fundraiser for Tancredo as well as Pat and Bay Buchanan.
Epstein, who says he was erroneously identified by the SPLC as a founder of Youth For Western Civilization, is a frequent contributor to VDARE.com, a Web site the SPLC has labeled a “hate group.” In one post, Epstein argued “Diversity can be good in moderation — if what is being brought in is desirable. Most Americans don't mind a little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers — as long as these trends do not overwhelm the dominant culture.”
Epstein, whose mother is Korean, says his only connection to YWC is the fact that he was a classmate of DeAnna’s at the College William and Mary. While in college, the two wrote for the now defunct conservative newspaper, The Remnant, and they have remained friends.
“If me being friends with the founder is the worst thing [about YWC] … then I think that says something about how silly these racism accusations are,” Epstein said.
The imagery and rhetoric employed by YWC have also contributed to concerns. The group’s Web site features a black and white crest with a hand gripping a hammer, which YWC members say is meant to symbolize Charles Martel, a Frankish ruler of the Middle Ages credited with halting Muslim expansion. The hammer may evoke different connotations for some.
“People have compared it to the fasces, which is simply not the case,” Saucier said.
DeAnna says he’s not surprised YWC is dodging allegations of racism, because that’s a common charge made against anyone that takes a hard-line position on issues like immigration or affirmative action.
“They’re going to say that no matter what we do,” he said. “If we say there shouldn’t be in-state tuition for illegals, they’re going to say that’s Nazism.”
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