March 16, 2007

Young Americans for Freedom Actually a Hate Group

A guest post from Sid Wood

The Michigan State University chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom will be listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on its annual list of hate groups next month. The investigation began last year following the group's much-publicized attempts to stage a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" event and an anti-gay rally featuring signs reading "Straight Power" and "End Faggotry."

(Crossposted at Michigan Liberal)

I am a student at MSU. In my capacity as the political cartoonist for the student newspaper, I have had many run-ins with members of the YAF, and let me tell you — if you've ever wondered who the brownshirts would be if fascism ever came to America, here's your answer.

The group is close-knit, secretive, and prone to authoritarian and eliminationist rhetoric. They claim to be the most active student activism group at MSU, and from all evidence, that's a true if unsettling statement (the College Republicans largely let the YAF do their activism for them, while the College Democrats here are disorganized to a degree that would be comical if it weren't tragic). Led by their smarmy chairman Kyle Bristow (who I will examine below), they have carved out a nice little pulpit for spreading their hateful message here at MSU and across the state.

MSU-YAF's Chairman and some other guy stand in front of MSU's famed "Sparty" statue.

First, some background. The national YAF was founded in 1960 at William F. Buckley Jr.'s estate in Sharon, Connecticut, on a platform of fanatical anti-Communism and opposition to the civil rights movement. In 1962 the group gave its annual "Freedom Award" to Strom Thurmond, and helped lead the movement to draft Barry Goldwater to run for president in 1964. Over the course of the 1960s, the group's numbers exploded, acting as the conservative counterpart to the Students for a Democratic Society (whose 1962 Port Huron Statement has been considered a response to the YAF's Sharon Statement two years earlier).

Though the SDS folded in 1969, the YAF lived on through the 70s and beyond. They ardently supported the Vietnam war, but criticized the draft and demanded expansion into Cambodia and Laos. They opposed Nixon's opening of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, bleating that he "sold out" the democratic Republic of China. They opposed SALT I and SALT II, demanding that the United States abandon d├ętente and step up the nuclear arms race.

Their wishes were fulfilled with the election of Ronald Reagan, who incidentally sat on the group's advisory board since 1962. Throughout the 80s, the YAF were Reagan's foot soldiers on campus, aggressively supporting his agenda in almost every instance, but especially in the realm of foreign policy. They, along with other student groups like the College Republicans, were tapped by the Office of Public Diplomacy to disseminate pro-Contra propaganda on college campuses nationwide.

The YAF's numbers declined sharply in the 90s. Perhaps it was because the Soviet Union collapsed, robbing the group of half their platform; perhaps it was a sense of complacency following their string of successes in the Reagan-Bush years; but not matter the reason, the YAF was nearly dead by the end of the century.

It would have probably stayed dead, but certain people saw to it that the organization be revived. The Young America's Foundation and The Leadership Institute, among other right wing organizations and donors big and small, have been funding a YAF revival. The MSU chapter, founded in 2001 as part of this program, has grown to become one of the most active and vocal YAF groups in the country. Other notable chapters include the one at the University of Michigan, which works closely with the MSU-YAF, and the Penn State Chapter.

MSU-YAF's chairman is overcompensating for something. I assume he did this himself, because I found it on his university web space.

The MSU chapter is typical of the new YAF: meaner, more radicalized, and more prone to hateful and even violent rhetoric. The "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" and "End Faggotry" stuff only scratches the surface. International Relations junior Kyle Bristow, the group's chairman and public face, was recalled from his position in ASMSU, the university's student government after his views became known to the students of his college when he posted a 13-point agenda to the ASMSU website (they quickly made him remove it, but the damage was done). Here's an excerpt from an article on the MSU-YAF:

Among the items listed were de-funding of all minority organizations, the creation of a men's council, a seat for a Christian organization on ASMSU, a Caucasian caucus, as well as forcing the Planned Parenthood in East Lansing to leave, and hunting down illegal immigrants in Lansing and having them deported.

In a media interview, Bristow confirmed the 13-point memo was the agenda of YAF. When asked if YAF agreed with his memo, Bristow replied "Absolutely."

I could go on forever listing the horrible views and actions of the YAF, but this diary is getting pretty long already, so I'll get back to the hate group status story.

The group won't be officially listed until April, when the SPLC's annual report comes out, but they've already started damage control. So far, all they've got is attacking the messenger:

YAF Chairman Kyle Bristow said the organization "might file a lawsuit for character defamation." He called the SPLC "disgusting" and extremely "left-wing" and said it was simply trying to discourage conservative activism.

And then here's Jeff Wiggins, chairman of the MSU College Republicans:

"I really don't take the SPLC for very much," MSU College Republicans Chairman Jeff Wiggins said.

"I see them as more of a left-wing organization, anyway. They're prone to bias."

In a sidebar, the State News article printed a Bristow email obtained from PrideSource, a local gay issues publication, outlining his damge control startegy (emphasis mine):

  1. All media questions regarding the hate group status go directly to Professor Allen at first until we establish that the media won't spin it.
  1. Prevent all dissent in YAF from appearing in the media. If we are seen as being divided, then the media will argue that I am a whack job, even by YAF standards. This will hurt us more than anything.
  1. I will mention how mainstream YAF is — Ronald Reagan was the honorary chairman, Sen. John Tower was a member, Barry Goldwater's supporters started it and Dan Quayle was a member.
  1. I will mention that we support the ideas of the great majority of America. Most of America believes in the sanctity of marriage, want to secure our borders, oppose affirmative action and believe that abortion is wrong. If these views make me a hateful person, then I am proud of it. People at LI (Leadership Institute) suggest that we make a mockery of the whole thing by pointing this out.
  1. If The State News mentions that you saw the "evil of YAF's ways" or something, all I can do is have you talk to them (only with my permission.) ... You cannot apologize for anything YAF has done, cannot say bad things about me, cannot say that YAF is divided on any issues and cannot say that we need to do things in a better way. Any of these items can be twisted around to make us look bad. Regardless of whether or not The State News takes interest in the Between the Lines or City Pulse article, you must not speak to the media unless you have my permission (not even on your own behalf because it still represents the group). Don't even tell them the time or day of the week without my permission.

That's all I can write right now, as my hand is starting to cramp and my back is starting to ache. I guarantee that this story will be heading in interesting places over the next few weeks. If you live in the area, or even if you don't, please help spread this story far and wide. It deserves lots of coverage, as it's a perfect case study on the inner workings of the New Right's foot soldiers on college campuses nationwide. As I mentioned earlier, these are the sort of people who become brownshirts when fascism comes to societies. Expose them. Mock them. Stop them.

1 comment:

menshevik said...

There were libertarians in YAF in the 60's. See the book comparing sds w/yaf by rebecca klatch, university of california press. At the UC Press website they have a chapter from the book. Blurbed by Tom Hayden.