Purdue jolted by voice of campus fascists

Fascists don't always goose-step into town as Hitler's Wehrmacht did in Austria, or as Mussolini's black shirts did to Ethiopia after browbeating Italy's feeble king into submission.

Even Hitler and Mussolini had mastered the craft of genteel democratic pretense. Just ideas to be debated. Just free speech that eventually comes with an unexpected price. Ignore it. The breezes of time will blow it away.


That's the subtle danger of tolerating deadly menace.

Sometimes fascists creep up to doors and bulletin boards in the night and tack up fliers proclaiming their existence and daring to be shouted down.


That happened this week on Purdue's campus in West Lafayette. Purdue didn't know it had fascists on campus, but apparently it does now.

Is this Trumpian-inspired nationalist lunacy that always existed without a mouthpiece but now seems embolden to slither from under the rocks? Perhaps paying attention to political cockroaches only enables more of them to reveal themselves.

Who knows?

The organization behind the posters nailed all across campus, American Vanguard, is not subtle. Its website includes the group's manifesto. "White America is under attack. Through subversion, the forces of Marxism have brought our nation to its knees by rotting it from within…"

The goal? " TOTAL WAR," the group says, "We fight for a White America, but this can never happen unless we win the hearts and minds of our fellow White youth. We want to be at the forefront of the reawakening of White racial consciousness. In order to do this, we must be willing to fight."

That message seems unequivocal, especially the one posted at Purdue's cultural center.

The California-based group was unknown a year ago, but it's on the Southern Poverty Law Center hate group watch list now.

What is less plain is how Purdue, and particularly President Mitch Daniels, will respond. Every significant student and faculty group on campus called on him to rise to the threat and define what Purdue stands for, and equally important, what threats won't be countenanced on a diverse campus.


The Purdue Social Justice Coalition held an emergency meeting. The Purdue Graduate Student Government also passed an emergency resolution demanding principled resistance from the top. That's Daniels.

His first try at this leadership moment was lacking much sizzle. Those appalled by the anonymous fascists and their gall were nearly as appalled at his passivity.

Daniels issued a passionless, managerial press release.

The "views expressed (at the group's website) … are obviously inconsistent with the values and principles we believe in here at Purdue. This is a transparent effort to bait people into overreacting, thereby giving a minuscule fringe group attention it does not deserve, and that we decline to do."

Yes, we would guess that Nazism is inconsistent with Boilermaker Pride. But if you are person of color who teaches, studies or works at Purdue, the warning was meant for you, not Daniels.

But there are no historical precedents to suggest that ignoring fascism makes it go away.


If you are a typically bright, motivated student at Purdue, you might have needed a senior stint in the one advanced history class detailing why fascists staking claim to Purdue's reputation is dangerous.

The most teens know of fascism these days comes in a 20-minute summary during some high school history class that immediately bolts ahead to more appealing and current topics. As history's record piles up, our social attention span dwindles, and that makes us more vulnerable to our own ignorance.

So let us recapitulate.

Fascism hails the power of "The National Identity" against those entities not of the nation. Wrong race. Wrong heritage. Wrong blood. Wrong religion. Wrong tribal boundaries.

The unalterable denial of "The Others" is enforced with police and military brutality. There are no rights except those of "The Nation" and one leader enunciates and enforces those rights. There is no debate. That argument is settled with death.

Tithi Bhattacharya, a member of the University Senate's equity and diversity committee, gets the point. As he told Lafayette reporters: "Silence does not translate into neutrality in this world … there is a certain resigned horror because many of us are unsurprised by this."


The human race has paid dearly for allowing nationalist urges to take power. It always declares war on humanity.

Between 1938 and 1945, fascism cost the blood, bones and souls of 80 million human sacrifices upon its altar.

The world was permanently scarred.

Fascism is not a problem to be managed. It is a pestilence.

It would be sad if Daniels discovered that too late.

David Rutter was editor for 40 years at six newspapers.