A recent increase in reported bias-related incidents at Georgetown mirrors a national increase in hate crimes since the election of President-elect Donald Trump, increasing concerns about the role of the so-called “alt-right,” also known as the “alternative right,” and the presence of white nationalist groups in Washington, D.C.
Since Trump’s election in November, the Georgetown University Police Department has reported at least three bias-related incidents, which have occurred both on and off-campus and involved students of color or LGBTQ students.
In a Nov. 13 instance, a student wearing a scarf similar to a hijab over her face on the 3700 block of Prospect St. NW was shoved, forced to the ground and told to take her scarf off.
This incident, along with another in which a student of Asian descent was spit upon while walking on the 3200 block of Prospect St., prompted an official response from GUPD Chief Jay Gruber and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson. In both cases, the perpetrators were reported to be a group of four to six white men.
“Like many of you, we have also heard of other bias-related incidents in recent days,” Gruber and Olson wrote in an email to the university community. “We are troubled by these reports and are taking steps to support our students.”
A Rising Force in the District
The alt-right is the general name now used by populist right-wing movements comprised of various white supremacists and white nationalists who emphasize anti-establishment conservatism while prioritizing the protection of the white race in the United States.
The term was coined by Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who founded AlternativeRight.com and now serves as the president of the National Policy Institute, a Virginia-based white nationalist think tank.
Spencer’s organization recently faced criticism after The Atlantic published a video of the annual NPI conference hosted Nov. 19 at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown D.C. with 275 audience members. The video showed audience members seemingly raising their hands in Nazi salutes.
“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Spencer said to the crowd.
Spencer’s speech compared media figures to creatures, criticized minority groups and questioned the humanity of Trump’s opponents.
“It’s not just that they are leftists or cucks. It’s not just that many are genuinely stupid,” Spencer said. “Indeed, one wonders if those people are people at all, or instead soulless Golems, animated by some dark power to repeat whatever talking points John Oliver said the night before.”
That same night, a group of alt-right supporters gathered at the Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant in Friendship Heights for a dinner sponsored by the NPI, where attendees were photographed making Nazi salutes and an attendee sent out a tweet with a caption reading “Sieg Heil.”
The following Monday, Nov. 21, the 51-chain restaurant President Steve Provost issued an apology on Facebook.
“This was a last minute booking made Friday afternoon, and the reservation was made under a different name, therefore we were not aware that NPI was dining with us or what the group represents,” Provost wrote. “This expression of support of Hitler is extremely offensive to us, as our restaurant is home to teammates and guests of every race, religion and cultural background.”
University Faculty Concerned
Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University history professor, noted that alt-right’s increased visibility is a response to identity politics, which is the usage of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to intersect with political activism.
“There is a sense in this culture in people protecting an identity and looking at an identity, being part of cultural traditions, that’s something which has become quite legitimized in America since the 1960s,” Kazin said. “Not surprisingly, people like Spencer and others who identify with that kind of politics, whether truly or not, have picked up on this wave presenting itself.”
Georgetown University Director of Jewish Chaplaincy Rabbi Rachel Gartner said she sees a vast contrast between alt-right politics and the mainstream political debate.
“We can all agree that conservative politics is one thing and that the ‘alt-right’ is another thing entirely. If my concerns with the alt-right were about conservative versus liberal politics, I wouldn’t feel the strong need to speak out when asked about this,” Gartner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “But that’s not what we’re talking about here.”
Gartner said the presence of the alt-right in D.C. has brought anti-Semitic discrimination back into the national spotlight.
“Things are happening, right here, in our very own DMV area, and across the country. Don’t believe any spin that says otherwise,” Gartner wrote.
Bias-Related Incidents Increase
This racially charged discourse has impacted minority groups and children in schools across the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s #ReportHate submission system.
The SPLC has reported 867 bias-related incidents and hate crimes as of Nov. 29, an increase from the 201 incidents reported as of Nov. 11. These instances include anti-black, anti-women and anti-LGBTQ incidents.
In schools, the SPLC has confirmed the so-called “Trump effect,” a term coined by former Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton, describing an increase in bullying and discriminatory acts toward minority students.
A Nov. 28 SPLC report written by Maureen Costello noted the 2016 presidential election has led to 90 percent of educators reporting their school climate has been negatively affected and 80 percent describing a heightened anxiety and concern from students and their families. The survey consulted over 10,000 teachers, counselors and administrators across the nation to find these results.
Students on Guard
Georgetown students have demonstrated apprehension toward the increased visibility of the alt-right in the District.
Grant Olson (COL ’19) said the NPI convention last month shocked him.
“As a Jew, seeing this kind of gathering is incredibly disgusting and racist. How we, as a nation, can so easily fall back into dangerous nationalist, white supremacist tendencies shocks me to my core,” Olson said. “I know that the First Amendment defends their right to say what they want, but we can’t convince ourselves that it’s okay to let this kind of hate speech into the public forum.”
Georgetown University College Democrats Vice Chair Meredith Forsyth (SFS ’19) said the offensive language used by supporters of the alt-right should be concerning regardless of political persuasion.
“Right here in D.C., there are now right-wing extremists promulgating their narrative of white supremacy and hatred, and their voices have been amplified and even normalized by Donald Trump’s rhetoric and behavior,” Forsyth wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown University College Republicans Vice Chair Samantha Granville (COL ’17) said she rejects the alt-right and said she regrets this movement has impaired the work of mainstream Republican outreach.
“Membership outreach for GUCR has always been a difficult job, and the influence of alt-right groups does not help the problem,” Granville wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Conservatism is certainly not supposed to be rooted in exclusion based on gender, religion, race or sexuality. ”
Muslim Students’ Association President Khadija Mohamud (SFS ’17) said she found the discourse used by the Trump campaign and alt-right figures disheartening.
“As a Black American Muslim, I refuse to accept that I am any less American than my fellow compatriots due to the color of my skin or my religious beliefs,” Mohamud said.
Georgetown University Student Association President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) said the public visibility of the alt-right and Trump’s election have increased concerns among minority student groups.
“As an institution, we need to be aware of any communities who feel vulnerable on our campus, and we need to actively engage and support them,” Khan said.
Still, some students disagree with the mainstream characterization of the alt-right.
Michael Parmiter (MSB ’18) who does not identify with the movement, said it is more than just the group that gathered in Washington last month.
“I see the alt-right as a reaction to the dysfunction in Washington,” Parmiter said. “I see it as an extension of the Tea Party. The alt-right people are not Republicans in the traditional sense of the word.”
Still, Mohamud said she is optimistic Americans, especially students, will reject racist attitudes, citing an instance of another student offering to walk her home from Lauinger Library.
“I’ve never received so many texts from friends who are non-Muslims, people I haven’t even spoken to in so long, people asking me in Lau if I want them to walk me home, going out of their way to do stuff like that — that gives me hope,” Mohamud said. “I refuse to accept the fact that as Americans we will tolerate bigotry.”
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