Editor's Note: This lengthy story is slated for publication in a future issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, but is published early here because the group it focuses on, Youth for Western Civilization, is holding its first national conference this Friday through Sunday at an undisclosed location in the Washington, D.C., area. To read a summary of the report's key findings, see here.
By Mark Potok and Evelyn Schlatter
Youth for Western Civilization (YWC) — a 5-year-old ultraconservative student group whose national conference in Washington, D.C., this Friday is being billed by its leader as the organization’s “real birth” — asserts that it is “not a racist group.” Its only purpose, says the group that claims a swelling presence on U.S. campuses and even abroad, is to defend “Western civilization.”
But what exactly does YWC mean by that?
The answer to that question was never clearer than this April, when racist ideologue Jared Taylor wrote a cover letter to his subscribers asking for support for YWC and its leader, Kevin DeAnna (pictured at right), who Taylor described as “an eloquent and distinguished young man who knows how important our cultural identity is.”
After reminding his backers that “race and race conflict” are at the core of the problems the West faces, Taylor said DeAnna “has agreed to continue our struggle on college campuses throughout the nation and dedicated himself to reaching our children and grandchildren.” For his part, DeAnna warned in an accompanying letter of the perils of “radical multiculturalism,” boasting that he had “defended western culture” against the “far left” that is trying to “destroy our people and culture.”
DeAnna’s fundraising partner, Jared Taylor, edits American Renaissance, a journal that specializes in issues of race, intelligence and the “psychopathology” of black people. In it, Taylor once mused: “When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.” Taylor’s biannual conferences have featured a Who’s Who of radical-right leaders, including former Klan boss David Duke and an array of leading neo-Nazi activists.
YWC is not some tiny Klan group on the margins of society. It claims a presence at nearly a dozen American universities, along with others in Canada and the United Kingdom. It appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a key Washington political venue, in 2009 and 2011, when it sponsored a panel on immigration. In 2010, it launched its own Internet radio show, “Western Resistance Radio.” Its honorary chairman is former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, a well-known immigration opponent and Tea Party favorite. Perhaps most worrying of all are YWC’s close ties to The Leadership Institute, an organization with a budget of some $10 million that claims to have trained close to 100,000 “future conservative leaders” — people like top Bush advisor Karl Rove — and that now employs DeAnna as a leading official of its campus leadership program.
The key question, as YWC attempts to organize new campus chapters through this week’s national conference, is whether it will continue to grow.
Roots of Radicalism
It seemed to begin with resentment towards women.
A decade ago, in 2001, Kevin DeAnna started at the College of William & Mary, a well-regarded school in Williamsburg, Va., where he joined the staff of a right-wing campus newspaper, The Remnant. He was soon joined there by Marcus Epstein, who six years later would be arrested for his attack on a black woman. By 2003, DeAnna was managing editor and Epstein was editor-in-chief. The next year, DeAnna replaced Epstein, who had gone to New Orleans for a semester to study Austrian (libertarian) economics and became the paper’s “Editor in Exile.”
During these years, The Remnant became known for its sneering attitude toward women. It railed on about a campus art exhibit of nude females, aged birth to 100, saying the people depicted “were simply disgusting and not appealing” and the entire exhibit was “filth.” It claimed that the wage gap between men and women was due to women’s “different work habits” and “occupational preferences,” rather than any kind of discrimination. But most notably, The Remnant in this period seemed to delight in attacking alleged rape victims, saying in 2003 that “feminist lies about supposed rape designed to demonize all men should be exposed.”
In 2004, DeAnna wrote a long article demanding an apology from a 16-year-old girl after prosecutors dropped charges against a student she had accused of raping her at a fraternity party. The next year, after a rash of reported sexual assaults on students, The Remnant again attacked an alleged rape victim, saying she had lied, that she was a “wannabe victim” and “con artist,” and that she should be criminally charged. In 2006, after DeAnna’s 2005 graduation, the girl who was 16 in 2004 sued DeAnna, Epstein, and three other Remnant staffers for defamation. The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed for reasons that are not clear from the court record.
The paper had other interests as well. In a section titled “Rebel Yell,” a reference to the Confederate battle cry, it argued that the Civil War was not fought over slavery — a claim that virtually no serious historian agrees with. It approvingly quoted the late Sam Francis while he was the chief editor of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, a hate group that opposes interracial marriage and has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.”
And, in 2003, it sponsored a talk, “Was There a Civil Rights Revolution?” by the radical-right professor Paul Gottfried, who argued that Martin Luther King Jr. had pushed the nation onto a path that “had more to do with political coercion and relentless indoctrination than with appeals to conscience,” as he put it in an essay under the same title as his William & Mary presentation. (Last year, Gottfried scoffed at criticism of Richard Nixon’s slurring of various minority groups. “Was Nixon unusual in noticing that Jews are pushy, that the Irish have a tendency to imbibe too much, that Italians can be intemperate, or that Blacks generally don’t excel at intellectually demanding activities?” Gottfried asked.)
DeAnna wrote up the talk in a long, enthusiastic review.
DeAnna has written that he is “a former director” of the right-wing campus group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), apparently during his time at William & Mary. In 2005, he also began to blog at the Smash Left-Wing Scum website, where Craig Burgers — who would later join DeAnna on the first board of YWC — also was a blogger. At the time, Burgers was a member of the Michigan State University chapter of DeAnna’s organization, known as MSU-YAF.
That same year, presumably after graduating, DeAnna became a field representative with The Leadership Institute, which says it trains some 10,000 future leaders every year. (In addition to Rove, graduates have included Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed, lobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff and prostitute-turned-White House correspondent Jeff Gannon.) DeAnna was later promoted to deputy field director for campus leadership programs, a post he retains today. Epstein once had an internship at the institute as well, although it’s unclear when. The institute did not respond to requests for comment on its relationship to YWC.
Crossing the Rubicon
The year 2006 was a critical one for DeAnna and his friends as they cast about, looking for an organization that would serve as a base for their increasingly radical views. By year’s end, they had finally decided to create their own.
In spring 2006, Marcus Epstein graduated and was hired as executive director of American Cause, a group led by white nationalist commentator Pat Buchanan and his sister Bay Buchanan that seeks to “promote traditional American values.” He also became executive director of Team America, a political action committee “dedicated to securing our nation’s borders” that is headed by Bay Buchanan and Tom Tancredo, who would later become YWC’s honorary chairman.
Also that year, DeAnna, Epstein, a white nationalist named Richard Spencer and one other man started a group called the Robert A. Taft Club. According to the journalist Max Blumenthal, one invited speaker that year was the man who would later write a fundraising letter for DeAnna’s YWC — Jared Taylor. (This may well be where DeAnna and Taylor first met.) Also attending a club meeting, Blumenthal reported, was Luke Pelican, who was a former president of MSU-YAF. Later in the year, with DeAnna and Burgers, Pelican would join YWC’s first board.
In a related effort, DeAnna helped create a Facebook page in 2006 for what he called the European American Students Association. He was an administrator of the page, along with an apparently new friend — Kyle Bristow, who that spring had become the radical new head of MSU-YAF. Answering a request for comment from the Intelligence Report, DeAnna said this May that “that was never a real group but an online parody of all the race-based groups you see on any college campus.”
Shortly after taking the reins of MSU-YAF, Bristow began to develop a reputation as a racist and homophobic radical, and within months the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was talking to reporters about his activities. The SPLC announced its first listing of MSU-YAF as a hate group in April 2007.
DeAnna, in his comments to the Report, said that he had never been a member of MSU-YAF and Bristow had never belonged to YWC. And he said that he had known Bristow when he was “involved in mainstream Republican circles” and that Bristow only later chose “to go further to the right,” adding that he had “nothing to do with” Bristow’s later views. But the truth is that Bristow was already a well-known radical by the time DeAnna worked with him on Facebook. Bristow had posted a 13-point agenda in the spring of 2006, including the goals of defunding all “non-heterosexual student organizations,” the creation of a “Caucasian Caucus,” and the elimination of minority group representation in student government.
In May 2006, DeAnna and “Craig Burgess”— an apparent nom de plume of Craig Burgers — wrote an article in a conservative magazine about a new YAF chapter at Liberty University, a Christian evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., protesting Republican Sen. John McCain and the immigration reform law he co-sponsored. “This action,” they enthused, “is part of an effort to revitalize Young Americans for Freedom and create a real right-wing youth movement to mobilize against the Republican leadership for secure borders and national sovereignty.”
But they later apparently decided that YAF could not be revitalized. On Dec. 4, 2006, DeAnna incorporated Youth for Western Civilization in Falls Church, Va. Its first board of directors was composed of DeAnna, Burgers and Pelican.
Into the Wild
Much of YWC’s early activism seems to have been an angry response to the SPLC’s criticism of MSU-YAF, then run by Bristow and the former home of both Burgers and Pelican. One sign of that was the 2007 Facebook group called End the Southern Poverty Law Center that gave MSU-YAF’s E-mail address as its point of contact. One of the page’s two administrators was YWC’s Pelican.
On July 7 of that year, an episode occurred that would later bring great embarrassment to the allegedly non-racist YWC. Drunkenly walking through the streets of northwest Washington, D.C., Marcus Epstein, reportedly in the midst of a tirade about non-whites, saw a black woman walking by and called her a “nigger.” He then tried to physically attack the woman but was stopped by her husband, who briefly detained him until he broke free and fled. Epstein didn’t make it far, however, as a passing Secret Service agent saw the attack and detained him.
It would be almost two years before this became public, after Epstein pleaded guilty to assault and agreed to undergo alcoholism treatment, stay away from the couple in question, and donate $1,000 to the United Negro College Fund. When it did, YWC worked to put distance between itself and Epstein. This spring, DeAnna told the Report that he and Epstein had discussed the possibility of his becoming YWC vice president only in early 2011, but that Epstein had never taken the post.
That’s strange, because in 2009, a Vanderbilt University alumni newspaper ran a clarification of an earlier article about the YWC, apparently after DeAnna contacted the paper to complain. “The original article misidentified Marcus Epstein as one of the founders of YWC,” it said. “According to … DeAnna,” it explained, “Marcus Epstein is a vice president of the national YWC. Epstein also identifies himself as vice president of YWC on the American Cause website.”
Epstein disappeared from visible activism after his arrest was publicized in 2009 and DeAnna drafted Devin Saucier, the co-founder of a YWC chapter at Vanderbilt University, as YWC vice president. In 2009, Saucier complained in a student newspaper that today’s immigrants are not assimilating: “[Y]ou can move to a Mexican ghetto or something like that and retain your same language, retain your same culture, root against the U.S. at sporting events, hang a Puerto Rican flag from your visor … and it’s not the same dedication to America that there used to be.” That December, Saucier attended a two-day Leadership Institute training.
YWC got its first introduction to the wider conservative world in February 2009, when it appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as a sponsor, or funder, and ran a booth in the conference’s main exhibition hall. It also hosted an “Inaugural Reception” in a ballroom at a nearby hotel.
Since that time, evidence of YWC’s radicalism has only accumulated:
- Current YWC Vice President Devin Saucier in 2009 brought in Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, a racist think tank that normally avoids guttural language but has featured interviews with rabid anti-Semites like Kevin MacDonald and the Rev. Ted Pike. Spencer was a founder, with DeAnna and Epstein, of the Taft Club.
- At a 2009 American University event organized by YWC, Tancredo gave a speech with an explicitly racial theme. “Throughout history, people who are not white Anglo-Saxon have become American by adopting a white Anglo-Saxon culture,” he said, according to the student newspaper. “Today, this cult of multiculturality emphasizes our differences.” He reportedly went on to identify Latinos and Muslims as members of “problem” cultures.
- DeAnna spoke the same year to a conference of the H.L. Mencken Club founded by Paul Gottfried, the same radical professor whose William & Mary speech he had enthused about in 2003. Other guest speakers included Richard Spencer and Jim Russell, an editorial adviser to The Occidental Quarterly, which writes on topics like eugenics and “the Jewish Mafia.”
- In a June 2010 speech at an anti-immigration rally sponsored by the Phoenix Rising Tea Party, DeAnna said America cannot survive being “Balkanized” by immigrant groups that do not assimilate to American culture. “If we lose this battle,” the YWC president told his listeners, “we lose everything.”
- In October of that year, DeAnna spoke to a conference hosted by The Social Contract, a racist nativist journal that has fretted that “Europhobia” is making white people strangers in their own land. DeAnna told his listeners that what was needed was to “destroy the multicultural paradigm on campus.”
- During the same month, Tim Dionisopoulos, president of the Providence, R.I., chapter of YWC, spoke at a rally hosted by the nativist Rhode Islanders for Immigration and Law Enforcement, citing racist ideologue Sam Francis.
Recent blog items on YWC’s website also suggest an underlying antipathy towards blacks and Latinos. One unattributed 2010 posting complains that we are “importing a servant class of groundskeepers, nannies and pool boys from the Third World.” Another blamed “permanently aggrieved racial and ethnic minorities” for corporate diversity training, which it described as “a form of affirmative action in that it provides middle class jobs for those without any other marketable skills.” Another said it was a “tragedy” that so many blacks ended up “behind bars or growing up in broken homes. This can be attributed to personal failings though, not the American system.” And still another mentioned “how largely Jewish intellectual elites have utterly transformed American social and political discourse.”
At times, YWC can sound like a parody of its own racial fears. Last year, a blog item complained that the Obama Administration was using “politically correct” recyclable paperboard eggs in its Easter egg hunts rather than “fattening” real eggs. “But that’s not their most objectionable characteristic,” the defenders of Western civilization huffed. “Real eggs have the misfortune of being white!”
The Beat Goes On
This year, YWC returned to the February CPAC conference, hosting a panel called “Will Immigration Kill the GOP?” DeAnna moderated the panel, while panelist Tom Tancredo, who warned in 2003 that immigrants “are coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families,” told his listeners that multiculturalism “is the dagger pointed at the heart of Western civilization.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, DeAnna had his own provocative language: “Even if you prove to me … that [curtailing illegal immigration] would hurt the economy, I would still be opposed to immigration because it’s about our dispossession as a people.”
In the audience were several people not often seen at CPAC gatherings: Jim Gilchrist, founder of the nativist Minuteman Project; William D. Johnson, chairman of the American Third Position hate group and a man who has advocated deporting any American with an “ascertainable trace of Negro blood”; and Jared Taylor.
Two months later, Taylor Rose of the YWC chapter at Liberty University, the evangelical college started by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, met in Belgium with members of the Vlaams Belang political party. In 2004, under the name of Vlaams Blok, the party was outlawed because of its racist views; the party later reorganized under the new name to get around the prohibition. Rose also gave a speech in early May to an anti-Muslim demonstration in Germany hosted by two groups classified by the German government as “right-wing extremist.” DeAnna scoffed at that designation, telling the Report that European officials “recklessly” use “smear words.”
At around the same time, subscribers to Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance began to receive the envelope containing fundraising pitches for YWC from both Taylor and DeAnna. Today, DeAnna claims that he had nothing at all to do with that. In an E-mail to the Report, DeAnna said that YWC had asked an outside conservative fundraising group to “get lists for us.” The firm, he said, went on to contact Taylor “without my knowledge” and organized the entire mailing without ever showing it to YWC officials. While this may be so, it would be extremely rare in the world of fundraising consultants, who virtually never mail out letters on a client’s behalf without first securing the client’s approval of every word. DeAnna declined to identify what he called the “third party fundraising firm.”
Today, YWC is only starting to really become known on the national conservative scene, although it’s clear that it has developed a network of friends both on the extreme right and among some more mainstream conservatives. Currently, it has active chapters at American University (Washington, D.C.), where DeAnna is now pursuing a master’s degree in international relations; Vanderbilt (Tennessee); Washington State University; Liberty University (Virginia); Bentley University (Massachusetts); Providence College (Rhode Island); the University of Rhode Island; Boise State University (Idaho); and the University of Idaho.
DeAnna said recently that the “real birth” of YWC will come at its first national conference, this Friday to Sunday, in the capital. “All the work we have been doing over the last couple of years will come together at this conference,” DeAnna enthused. “It will be YWC’s real birth as a national organization with a support structure to build and maintain at campuses all around the country.”
The question now is whether it will be a stillbirth — a group like so many others that ventured from mainstream concerns into clearly racist thinking and withered — or instead manage to fool people into seeing it as a healthy newborn.
Heidi Beirich contributed to this story.