Is it OK to tear down a questionable poster? UK students act quickly on 'unsettling' flyers

'Not all the posters were obviously white supremacist stuff.'

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Senior neuroscience major Ivanka Rainer poses for a portrait at the William T. Young Library on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. Rainer found American Identity Movement flyers posted in the library and removed them. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

While studying on the fifth floor of the William T. Young library on the first day of classes in late August, senior neuroscience major Ivanka Rainer saw a poster that she thought was a little of out the ordinary.

“Not all the posters were obviously white supremacist stuff,” Rainer said.

Rainer saw posters bearing the logo of American Identity Movement—a group often listed as a national white supremacist organization. The first two posters she found were hanging on message boards by a bathroom and water fountain.

“There was nothing in particular to say, ‘oh, it was a bad sign,'" Rainer said. "But then right as I turned around after getting bad vibes from that poster I saw another sign from the same organization that said ‘diversity destroys nations’ and it was like a 'oh no' moment, like it was definitely the thing that made me decide, ‘oh I need to take these posters down.’”

Rainer took down the three flyers she saw.

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“I’m not sure if the university itself can take measures but it’s definitely something where at the very least students should take steps to take down the posters and not let that thing slide,” Rainer said.

AIM Posters

Three flyers posted by American Identity Movement in William T. Young Library on Monday, August 26, 2019. AIM is identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Photo provided by Ivanka Rainer

Rainer then sent a picture of the flyers to a group chat that included Saadia Akhtar, assistant director of health and wellness for UK’s Student Government Association.

Akhtar showed the picture to SGA President Michael Hamilton who forwarded the information on to the university administration.

“They’re pretty nationalistic in nature so I sent them on to administrators just to make sure they were aware of them, but as far as I know, it’s an isolated incident," Hamilton said. "I don’t think we’ve seen any anywhere else on campus, but still, a little unsettling."

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said the university did take down posters on the fifth floor of the Willy T library.

"The University cannot remove posters because it disagrees with the message that the posters convey," said Blanton. "However, the University can remove posters that are posted in areas where we do not allow posters. Of course, we remove posters that deface property as well."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group which focuses on racial and social injustice, the American Identity Movement's flyers are innocuous and simplistic on purpose, to help build brand name recognition and draw in younger audiences, specifically college students “who are then encouraged to engage in real-world activism on college campuses.”

Patrick Casey, the national president of the American Identity Movement, said the flyers were posted by local activists. Casey said AIM does not have official ties to college campuses but does have chapters across the country.

Casey launched AIM in March 2019 after shutting down Identity Evropa, which he led for a year. The Southern Poverty Law Center attributes this change to rebranding, since Identity Evropa faced bad press after co-organizing the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally around the University of Virginia's campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally left one person dead and over three dozen injured.

Further controversy followed after Evropa’s chats in an online chat server were released. One user’s comment in the chat, first released by left-wing media nonprofit Unicorn Riot, reads, “Anyone who listens to us for five minutes knows we’re White Nationalists.”

Another user says: “it’s important that we aren’t just rebranded white nationalists.”

Identity Evropa does face a lawsuit for their role in the rally in Charlotesville, the SPLC website says. SPLC lists the American Identity Movement as a hate group.

“Neither the SPLC nor the ADL are unbiased sources,” said Casey over email. “They have a left-wing political agenda that runs contrary to ours; as such, they aren’t interested in accurately describing or portraying us. In fact, these organizations exist for the sole purpose of defaming lawful, peaceful dissidents.”

AIM’s website says the organization “rejects political violence, extremism, and supremacism in all of its forms,” and lists the group’s principles as “nationalism, identitarianism, protectionism, non-interventionism, and populism.”

According to SPLC’s flyer tracking map, AIM is the second most active flyering white nationalist group, with nation-wide displays tallying 827 in the last two years.

AIM’s Twitter account shows that similar flyers were also put up in the Central Public Library of Lexington.

“Public universities must respect free speech, so they’re unable to discriminate against us solely on the grounds of our politics," Casey said. "However, many universities get around this by requiring posters to be approved before they’re placed. This grants our wonderful left-wing college commissars editorial control over the political materials displayed around campus."

Casey does not believe public universities have the right to remove their flyers.

“It was a concerning thing to see at UK cause it definitely makes you scared there might be more people here with that mindset than you realize,” Rainer said.