Neo-Nazi Preston Wiginton Joins Forces With Young Americans for Freedom at Michigan State University
Student Hate Group Roils Michigan State
By David Holthouse
Michigan State University's YAF chapter has veered from hardnosed conservatism to aggressive name-calling and an embrace of the racist right under Kyle Bristow. It has also shrunk to a handful of students.
"We protested in favor of fiscal and social conservatism. We held demonstrations against liberal senators who voted a way on a bill that we didn't agree with. But our agenda was very much what I could categorize as mainstream Republican," Jaksa said. "That was before Kyle took it over [in spring 2006] and YAF went off the deep end."
Friends in High Places
Despite its notoriety, MSU-YAF is widely supported by mainstream conservative politicians and power brokers in Michigan. The group was influential enough in rallying support for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — the deceptively named affirmative action ban that Michigan voters approved in 2006 — that MCRI Executive Director Jennifer Granz thanked MSU-YAF by name in her election night victory speech.
Last May 2, a few days after the SPLC named MSU-YAF a hate group — a move that received a great deal of public attention in the state — Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis endorsed MSU-YAF and defended Bristow on a talk radio show. "This [Bristow] is exactly the type of young kid we want out there," Anuzis said. "I've known Kyle for years and I can tell you I have never heard him say a racist or bigoted or sexist thing, ever."
Kari Lynn Jaksa considers herself a Republican conservative, but quit MSU-YAF because it gained a reputation as a home for "racists and fascists" under Kyle Bristow. "Frankly," she said, "he's embarrassing."
In fact, Bristow and his minions frequently single out and ridicule individual MSU gay, lesbian, and non-white students online, posting their photos and calling them "freaks," "scum" and "savages." Last September, Bristow criticized MSU's decision to establish a Chicano/Latino Studies doctoral program in a news release headlined, "MSU Offers Doctorate in Savagery."
And last March 31, roughly one month before Anuzis defended Bristow against accusations of bigotry, Bristow posted this comment on the MSU-YAF website: "If Christopher Columbus didn't bring civilization to the Americas, the Indians would still be running through forests in loincloths, scalping each other, shoving bones through their noses, worshipping pagan gods, and spreading syphilis. Thank God Christopher Columbus put an end to this backward culture."
Bristow politely refused a request to be interviewed for this article, saying that his "legal counsel" had advised him against such an interview because he's considering legal action against the SPLC, which publishes the Intelligence Report, for defamation.
But there are some clues to his personality.
In a recent online dating profile, Bristow wrote that he plans to enroll in law school after he graduates from MSU in the fall of 2008 with a degree in international relations. Among his hobbies are "conservative politics," "watching the History or Court TV channels," "shooting my pellet gun" and "looking at my coin collection."
Several MSU students who've been in classes with Bristow described him as a classmate who participated infrequently in seminar discussions, rarely asked questions and generally kept his political views to himself.
Jaksa, the former MSU-YAF member, said that she and Bristow hung out together quite a bit during their first year at MSU. "He was just a relaxed, normal kid at the beginning of our freshman year," Jaksa said. "But then he underwent this odd transition. You know how most people, when they get to college, either move to the center or become more liberal in terms of their political beliefs? Well, Kyle did the opposite. It was like he kept moving farther and farther to the right to counterbalance all the people around him he saw moving to the left."
Ted Madsen, another MSU international relations major who's now in his junior year, said that he first met Bristow a few days after their freshman year began in the fall of 2005. "He struck me as very driven and very strait-laced," recalled Madsen. "He was quite vocal about the fact that he was against drinking and smoking but, all in all, he was a fairly likeable guy."
Bristow in Power
In the spring of 2006, shortly after he assumed control of MSU-YAF, Bristow ran unopposed and was elected to represent James Madison College — the college attended by all international relations majors — on the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, the university's student government body.
Just before the academic year ended, Bristow posted his 13-point agenda online. It included these goals: "Hunt down illegal immigrants in the Lansing area and have them deported"; "Eliminate funding for all non-heterosexual student organizations"; "Create a Caucasian Caucus and give them representation on the ASMSU"; and "Eliminate representation to ASMSU for all of the following groups: Alliance of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] Students; the Arab Cultural Society; the Black Council; the International Students Association; the Women's Council; the North American Indigenous Student Organization," and practically every other non-white, non-heterosexual, or non-Christian student group at MSU.
"I was outraged when I saw it," said Madsen. "I told him, 'Your agenda of hate has got to stop, Kyle.' He's used that phrase repeatedly in a mocking fashion since."
Madsen gave Bristow a choice: "Either resign and apologize to the James Madison community for fouling our name, or be removed from office." Bristow did not resign and did not apologize. It took Madsen and his supporters only two days to gather enough signatures on a recall petition to force a vote, which took place in the fall of 2006, at the beginning of Bristow's sophomore year. Ninety-six percent of the James Madison students who cast ballots voted to recall Bristow. He was forced to relinquish his seat on the ASMSU.
"I don't regret it [leading the recall effort], although I do realize that his being recalled only further marginalized and radicalized Kyle to the point where he's become a joke to many people," said Madsen. "YAF is routinely ridiculed and mocked on campus, but what many people who refuse to take Kyle seriously may not realize is that Kyle believes all press coverage is good coverage, and while 10,000 people who read what he has to say will be disgusted, one or two will be intrigued. He's using the media coverage to reach those one or two people at a time and that's what concerns me about YAF, because what he's articulating is dangerous."
The University's Role
Whatever its potential harm to society, MSU-YAF's offensive antics have pinned university administrators between the rock of protecting free speech and the hard place of encouraging multiculturalism. For now MSU-YAF remains a registered and officially sanctioned student organization, meaning it's entitled to certain benefits, including the free use of MSU facilities and university accounting services.