Photo courtesy Matthew Bowser
Matthew Bowser was researching Islamophobia in 1930s Myanmar when he checked out Robert Paxton’s “The Anatomy of Fascism” from Snell Library. For over a month, the book sat on his desk, undisturbed. When he finally opened it Thursday, he discovered unusual sheets of paper under the book’s front cover.
Bowser, a fourth-year history doctorate student, said he didn’t recognize them at first. “I thought maybe it was an [interlibrary loan paperwork],” he said. “I turned it over, and it was these pamphlets … I saw ‘European Resistance.’”
There were 10 booklets, all titled “Northeastern University European Resistance.” Inside the pamphlets, Bowser found a German text, which translated into a quote from a speech by Hitler. On the other side were sections where respondents had indicated available dates, times and leadership interests along with personal information such as preferred pseudonyms, year and majors.
Respondents had circled “areas of interest” including “ethno-nationalism,” “esoteric kekism,” “fascism,” “international Jewry,” “white genocide” and more.
In a section asking if respondents had relevant experience for “[their] movement,” one wrote they had “infiltrated” NU Pride and the Progressive Student Alliance. Others wrote they were involved with the NU College Republicans, the Student Government Association and a “bunch of political clubs.”
The back of the pamphlets displayed a link to an identified neo-Nazi website, The Right Stuff.
“I actually wasn’t sure what to do,” Bowser said. He posted photographs of the booklets on Facebook the same day. Since then, the post has been shared on the NU Meme Collective, the NU subreddit, Twitter and other social media. Bowser said the response from the NU administration was swift.
“In fact, [administrators] actually were responding before I even reported it because of the people who posted on Twitter,” he said. “The university actually was trying to find me. They were saying, ‘Hey, we are very very concerned about this.’”
Snell Library is only accessible to NU students, faculty and staff, but people not directly affiliated with NU can enter through a guest pass invitation or a temporary researcher pass.
Bowser said he met with Dean of Libraries Dan Cohen on Monday, who disclosed to him that Snell Library has examined approximately 900 books on fascism with no similar discovery. He also turned in the pamphlets to the Northeastern University Police Department, or NUPD, for further investigation.
In an email correspondence with The News, Vice President of Communications Renata Nyul said “so far there is no evidence of fascist or nationalist organizing activity at Northeastern” and that it was “likely a random incident.”
Some student organizations expressed concerns that the university has not taken appropriate action to relieve trauma and fear for students of marginalized identities.
James Lyons, the co-founder and secretary general of the Northeastern University Students of Color Caucus, or NSCC, said the university should publicly offer counseling for students affected by the discovery and possible existence of a fascist group.
“I think that there is so much happening to students now. That physiological trauma exists. There’s stress that’s interfering, there’s finals and things like that,” said Lyons, a third-year media and screen studies and political science combined major. “So now what’s being done to account for those students as well? … Why hasn’t Madeline Estabrook [senior vice chancellor for student affairs] sent out an email to all students yet saying, ‘This is happening, if you are affected by this, we have resources?’”
Lyons said the NSCC tweeted at President Joseph E. Aoun and emailed NUPD. The NSCC will also hold a town hall event June 26 in which they will discuss the discovery of the pamphlets.
“Once we know students are safe and we figure out who did this and all of that, we also then are going to move into what’s going to be done retroactively to account for the trauma,” Lyons said.
Priya Amin, the collective liberation chair at Progressive Student Alliance, or PSA, said the executive board discussed the alleged “infiltration” of the student group by one of the questionnaire respondents.
“Even the person who is claiming to have infiltrated PSA hasn’t really revealed any PSA activities or plans that they would have known if they had infiltrated,” said Amin, a third-year chemical engineering major. “We’re confident that it’s not a coordinating committee member who is this so-called infiltrator. We plan on taking the necessary steps to maintain a safe environment.”
Amin also pointed out that the language of “infiltration” is debatable, since “general body meetings are open to the student body.” Amin also pointed out that “anyone who wants to attend can attend … Attending a meeting is not infiltration.”
“I personally think this infiltrator, whoever they are, are just trying to scare us. However, I do think that the presence of fascism and alt-right groups on campus is something that needs to be addressed, especially [at] this moment. It often is glazed over because the majority of Northeastern students are not right or not particularly conservative in their views,” Amin said.
External Vice President Matt Lowe of College Republicans, or NUCR, also spoke with The News about the club being mentioned by two of the respondents.
“It’s horrible that this is happening here on our campus and we certainly condemn it,” said Lowe, a second-year computer science and business combined major. “If we ever find out information about who in our club might be participating in this or who might be part of this, we will definitely take the right steps to remove them from the club because that is not something we ever want to be associated with in any context.”
Lowe also echoed Amin’s sentiment when he said he was not sure what would define “involvement” with the NUCR.
“We always open up our meetings to anybody and anything … We like that because we like having discussions with everyone and anyone on any side of the political spectrum,” Lowe said. “I think it is important to note that someone says they may be a part of our club, that very well may be they showed up to one meeting.”
As of now, the existence of such a fascist organization at Northeastern is unsubstantiated. However, students said they have noticed instances of hate and exclusion of varying degrees on campus regardless of the discovery of the purported organizing materials, indicating a trend of these occurrences happening at NU.
In November 2018, Ken Haley, a second-year English masters student, discovered and reported Islamophobic rhetoric on a poster promoting a lecture presented by a Muslim woman. Haley said he reported the finding to the Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Program and was contacted by NUPD for an interview.
“There were some weird questions I got from the detective. He asked me how do I know this was Islamophobic and what makes it Islamophobic. Was there any factual evidence that can help the claims on the poster?” Haley, who told the interviewing detective he wasn’t familiar with Islamophobic connotations, said. “I was wondering why they were asking me if they were factual.”
Another student informed The News that in late 2017, she received an email advertising a student group called “Engaging with Whiteness,” “a space for white students to explore [their] white identity and how it relates to Jesus.” While not necessarily fascist or alt-right, it proposed a group consisting of only white students to “learn about white culture” and “share [their] experience.”
Bowser said his discovery of the documents wasn’t entirely a shock and that he planned to further cooperate with the administration on investigating the source of the questionnaire.
“It’s just surprising but not that surprising at the same time,” Bowser said. “We sense that there is this undercurrent behind some of the ideas floating around in our society now. It’s just disappointing to find out that [there are students] actually overtly passionate toward this phenomenon.”
Updated June 19 at 4 p.m. to include a statement by Renata Nyul, vice president of communications.
Editor’s Note: Priya Amin used to write for The News.
If you have experienced hate and discrimination on campus, reach out to The Huntington News at [email protected]