Neo-Nazi Preston Wiginton Joins Forces With Young Americans for Freedom at Michigan State University

Student Hate Group Roils Michigan State

Ted Madsen.
After Kyle Bristow posted his 13-point agenda online, Ted Madsen led a successful effort to recall him from the student government. Ninety-six percent of students voted against Bristow.

MSU also has to pay for security at YAF events, which invariably draw heated protests. Last April, for example, the university shelled out $3,780 to rent metal detectors for one night to place at every entrance to a YAF-sponsored lecture by nativist extremist leader Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a border vigilante group.

Simcox was introduced to an unruly crowd by Jason Van Dyke, a neo-Confederate lawyer based in Denton, Texas. Van Dyke once attended MSU but did not graduate. By his own account, he was kicked out in 2000 after being arrested for domestic violence, possession of a banned weapon and firearm safety violations. (Van Dyke said he was merely transporting a rifle across campus on the first day of hunting season.) Also, according to Van Dyke, MSU police found extremist literature, including the race war fantasy novel The Turner Diaries and the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in his on-campus residence.

When he attended MSU, Van Dyke was a hotly controversial columnist for the State News, an MSU student newspaper. Now, like a former high school football star haunting his old campus, trying to relive the glory days, Van Dyke posts daily rah-rah messages on the MSU-YAF website and often travels to East Lansing for MSU-YAF happenings. He and Bristow often wear matching black cowboy hats.

When MSU-YAF held its "Koran Desecration" contest last August, Van Dyke offered this entry: "I would catch Osama Bin Laden and then take a power drill and hollow out a section of the Koran as he was forced to watch. After doing this, I would cut Osama Bin Laden's genitals off with a rusty hacksaw, place them in the hollowed-out Koran, wrap it in an American flag infected with smallpox, and send the whole package directly to Mecca."

Van Dyke was equally statesmanlike at the Simcox lecture, which was initially attended by about 40 Simcox supporters and about 100 anti-Simcox protesters, many if not most of them Latino MSU students. Addressing the protesters, Van Dyke said: "Remember, the First Amendment gives you the right to use four-letter words. So I have two more words for you: 'work' and 'soap.'"

Already tense, the situation in the lecture hall erupted. Protesters banged on seats and shouted angrily, preventing Simcox from speaking. MSU police arrested five demonstrators and cleared the room of anyone they perceived to be anti-Simcox, which included virtually all Latinos. This in turn led to allegations of racial profiling, since the campus police officers allowed white protesters to stay.

One week after the Simcox event, a group of 11 students filed a formal complaint with the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. They accused MSU-YAF of violating the university's anti-discrimination policy, which prohibits the bias-motivated harassment of any "University community member" but includes this caveat: "These prohibitions are not intended to abridge University community members' rights of free expression or other civil rights."

The complaint filed against MSU-YAF accuses the group of "systematically — as a matter of regular organization practice — targeting groups and individuals for harassment, intimidation and public ridicule."

Kyle Bristow.
At a YAF lecture announced with "Gays Spread AIDS" fliers, YAF chief Kyle Bristow was joined by fewer than a dozen students.

University officials declined to discuss the complaint with the Intelligence Report, citing a pending investigation.

Behind the YAF Brand
Young Americans for Freedom was originally a centralized organization of rabidly anti-communist university student groups created in 1960 by National Review founder William F. Buckley. The original incarnation of YAF was also strictly opposed to the civil rights movement and, in 1962, gave its first annual Freedom Award to segregationist South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond.

YAF remained active nationwide through the 1980s, but is now essentially moribund. The YAF national headquarters webpage consists of a notice of sadness at the "recent news" of Ronald Reagan's death, which occurred in June 2004. Now, "Young Americans for Freedom" is basically just a brand name for radical right-wing student activism, taking form as a loose and decentralized network of campus chapters, each one appearing to act independently.

In fact, the YAF brand is being co-opted and promoted by the Leadership Institute, a hard-line conservative nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., that is dedicated, according to its mission statement, to "identifying, recruiting, training and placing conservatives within the public policy process in the U.S. and abroad." Republican National Committee executive committee member Morton Blackwell — who orchestrated a campaign against Anita Hill at the University of Oklahoma after she came forward with sexual harassment allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas — founded the Leadership Institute in 1979 and is still its president. Major donors include the Coors Foundation and Rich DeVos, founder of the troubled Amway multilevel marketing firm.

Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff were both trained by the Leadership Institute, as was Jeff Gannon, the fake White House news correspondent who lobbed softball questions for President Bush from 2003 until 2005. That's when it was revealed that Gannon had been a gay prostitute before attending the Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism, after which he somehow obtained White House press credentials as a reporter for "Talon News," Gannon's one-man operation.

Bristow and Van Dyke both interned at the Leadership Institute last summer. There are currently more than 20 YAF organizations on campuses across the country, most of them started in the past five years by Leadership Institute-trained activists. (The Campus Leadership Program division of the Leadership Institute, according to its website, "fosters permanent, effective, conservative student organizations on college campuses across America.") MSU-YAF is by far the most radical. Its most recent event, the lecture by British National Party Chairman Nick Griffin, was promoted by overtly white supremacist organizations including the American Renaissance newsletter, the Council of Conservative Citizens, and Stormfront. Attending the Griffin lecture incognito were members of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a white nationalist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, as well as members of the Keystone State Skinheads and the National Alliance, both neo-Nazi organizations that promote violence against non-whites, non-heterosexuals and Jews.

The only violence surrounding the Griffin event, however, was directed at MSU-YAF when a handful of its members were chased by an angry mob of anti-racist activists afterwards. Bristow claimed members of the mob were carrying baseball bats and pieces of lumber. No injuries were reported.

Demeaning MSU?
MSU President Lou Ann Simon has been fairly tight-lipped on the ongoing MSU-YAF controversy. Reacting to the MSU-YAF sponsored "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" back in September 2006, Simon chided MSU-YAF for sponsoring an event she described as "demeaning to individuals and to the values of Michigan State University."

But this Oct. 25, the day before Griffin's lecture, Simon issued a statement making it clear that putting up with racist propaganda is the price that a university must pay if it is committed to free speech.

"A university should be an open marketplace for the free exchange of ideas," Simon said. "There are individuals who speak at campus events whose rhetoric and ideas I find reprehensible, and although I may not appreciate their positions, I do respect their right to share their views. The more extreme the view, in either direction, the more it tests us.

"Although we may disagree with one another's positions, we must respect the rights of individuals to express their positions without fear of intimidation or physical harm. … Acts intended to prohibit the free speech rights of any individual or group, such as destroying informational materials, preventing access to an event, or shouting down a speaker do not support this philosophy and undermine our efforts to encourage robust intellectual discourse."

MSU student Claudia Gonzalez experienced Bristow's favorite mode of discourse first-hand when she participated in a protest outside an MSU-YAF event featuring anti-immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo, a Republican congressman from Colorado. "He [Bristow] came up to me and told me, 'The one thing I'm most proud of is that my granddaddy stole Aztlan from your granddaddy,'" Gonzalez said.

Shortly after that exchange, MSU-YAF named Gonzalez "Leftist Freak of the Year" and posted her photo online. A few days later, the San Bernardino, Calif.-based hate group Save Our State posted her home address, phone number and parents' home address, along with the message, "Please go and express your views."

"I don't feel completely safe on campus or at my home anymore because of YAF," Gonzalez said. "And neither do a lot of other students of color and GLBT students, because YAF is clearly networking with these other hate groups, and they're basically issuing an open invitation to skinheads and [anti-immigration] vigilantes and Nazis to come to MSU, who otherwise would never step foot on campus. … If it weren't for YAF, MSU wouldn't be on the hate group radar. But now it is."