Students at the University of Chicago arrived at school on Monday to find Nazi imagery littering the campus.
The flyers—featuring an image of Adolf Hitler on a background of swastikas—had been pasted to the doors of the university’s Center for Identity + Inclusion, a building that houses both the LGBTQ Student Life Office and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. According to student Alex Shams, the Hitler posters were also plastered to the doors of the school’s Center for Gender and Sexuality and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture.
Along the bottom half of the flyers read the message “#Hitler Disapproves/No Degeneracy/No Tolerance/Hail Victory.” A person or group called Atomwaffen Division took credit for the defacement on Twitter. On Wednesday, the Atomwaffen Division Twitter account was still active—with months of tweets featuring hate speech still up. One, from November 22, showed an image of a “disgusting f-g flag taken from Pulse being burned.” Another tweet from December 3 said “You better get ready for the race war” with an image of a bomb factory.
By Thursday afternoon, the Twitter account had been suspended.
In a statement emailed to NBC Out on Wednesday night, the university’s LGBTQ Student Life Office Director Tobias Spears reiterated the office’s commitment without specifically referencing the Nazi flyers that were pasted to his building’s front door.
"The LGBTQ Student Life Office will continue to foster an environment that engages the campus community on what it means to be a conscious ally to students who experience identities along the queer and trans spectrum,” Spears said. “We remain committed to creating a campus culture where LGBTQ students feel empowered to learn and grow as intellectuals."
In an email that went out to the campus community on Tuesday, university Provost Daniel Diermeier called the Nazi posters “disturbing” and said they had been removed from various locations on campus.
“The University is investigating these unauthorized postings, which reflect attitudes that fundamentally contradict the University’s commitment to fostering a welcoming campus for individuals of diverse backgrounds,” Diermeier wrote. “This is not the first time our campus has experienced such incidents from outside groups seeking publicity for their cause.”
But Shams, a PhD candidate in the Anthropology department, told NBC Out it wasn’t clear whether “outside groups” were responsible and not students.
“It’s likely that students are connected to or involved in these groups,” said Shams, who added, “There are cameras that could easily help them find these people.”
In October, the University of Chicago campus was similarly targeted by a right-wing Jewish group called the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The group took responsibility for flyering the campus with incendiary images that compared members of the Muslim Students Association and the group Students for Justice in Palestine to terrorists. Many of the flyers listed the names of students who were members of the groups—including Shams.
“My name was on those flyers calling me a terrorist,” Shams said, explaining that the Horowitz center also keeps an online blacklist of individuals and groups who have expressed opposition to the Israeli treatment of Palestine, where his name is also found. “But when these posters showed up with our names—and also links to the blacklist—it turned from an online list to a very real, on-campus, like, ‘we are coming to get you’ thing.”
The Horowitz blacklist, Discoverthenetworks.org, features member information on Muslim Student Association clubs at campuses around the country and also lists prominent celebrities and politicians categorized as “anti-semites” and “terrorists.” The Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes Horowitz, in return, as “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black.”
Shams expressed frustration at the university’s handling of both incidents—saying that the administration told him directly in meetings they wanted to “downplay” the hateful flyer campaigns rather than “feeding into it.”
“The problem isn’t just that the posters were put up. The problem is that anti-LGBT and racist hate crimes have skyrocketed in the past few weeks and are only going to get worse,” said Shams, who told NBC Out that he knows hijab-wearing students who have experienced harassment and violence “several times a week” since the election.
“We’ve avoided talking about it, but it keeps happening and is getting worse,” Shams said. “And now we have a President-elect who’s essentially an internet troll and is emboldening these people to go further and further. The university needs to say, you can’t use our campus to attack our students.”