Free speech is clearly detailed in our nation’s Bill of Rights.
However, where does the line and moral obligation lie between free speech and hate speech?
For one student, who prefers to remain anonymous because of the nature of the conversation, posters and stickers on display around campus — particularly in the area around the Collins Garage and Student Services Center — from the group Patriot Front have no place at USF.
“Their tactic is to intimidate marginalized people using subtle propaganda that still sends the message that ‘you don’t belong here,’ however, without openly threatening us,” the student said in a message to The Oracle. “It’s more nuanced that just simply hate speech or free speech, under USF policies and many other campuses, these posters don’t count as “hate speech” despite sending the same message.”
Dean of Students Danielle McDonald said there is little that can be done about the flyers and stickers. Though if the situation evolves into an issue of harassment, that is a different story.
“It is not necessarily a line between free speech, it is a line between free speech and harassment,” McDonald said. “If it is targeted at individuals, if it causes disruptions, if it is continuous or repeated that is harassment.”
McDonald said this is not the first time she has heard of groups like Patriot Front posting these flyers.
“Over the past few weeks and months, different staff have let me know of different signage that has happened,” McDonald said. “Some of it has been on people’s offices. I got some of those, but I have not gotten any students come to see me.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Front “is a white nationalist hate group that broke off from Vanguard America in the aftermath of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, of August 12, 2017.”
One portion of the group’s manifesto, as posted on its website reads: “An African, for example, may have lived, worked, and even been classed as a citizen in America for centuries, yet he is not American. He is, as he likely prefers to be labelled, an African in America. The same rule applies to others who are not of the founding stock of our people as well as to those who do not share the common unconscious that permeates throughout our greater civilization, and the European diaspora.”
For the student, this message hits home.
“As a Black, Filipino, and Queer man, these posters are a constant reminder that there are people in the Tampa area, on USF campus, or even in my classes that don’t want me to exist in this country,” the student said. “I walk past them almost every day.”
McDonald said often messages and posters like these are not actually from students, because USF is an open campus.
“Often we do not know who has posted these things unless they are in a place that has a camera pointed directly at it,” McDonald said. “When we have had some in (the Marshall Student Center) we have looked to see if the cameras picked it up and they didn’t.”
As a result, McDonald said preventing such messages becomes even more difficult.
“It is hard to hold people who are not students accountable to our policies,” McDonald said.
She added that flyers not posted in designated areas around campus can be taken down, per USF’s “posting policy.”
However, the student said he is hoping that more will be done to prevent groups like Patriot Front and others from being active on campus.
“White Nationalists groups can’t just be ignored, we must actively fight them,” the student said. “I think that USF needs to send a stronger message that white nationalists will not be tolerated. There are also cameras in Collins garage where a ton of these posters have been put up. I doubt the administration has even checked these tapes to see who might be putting the posters up.”
One of the Patriot Front posters reads: “better dead than red,” in reference to the color commonly associated with the Communist party.
“I take that as a direct threat to the organizations…,” the student said.
Patriot Front is not a group limited to the Tampa Bay area. In fact, a few group members were arrested in the Boston area last week after an altercation with local police.
According to WCVB, a Boston-based affiliate of ABC News, three Patriot Front members were first approached after walking down the street wearing masks and holding cans of spray paint and flyers similar to those posted on campus. The men were arrested after one became combative and slapped the hand of an officer.
McDonald said that though the university may not be able to direct students away from getting involved with a group like Patriot Front, she believes one way a student’s perspective may change is by spending time with people who do not look or think as they do.
“When you can put a face, a person and a humanity with someone, I think it often changes the opinion,” McDonald said. “That is always my hope.”