Soon after Purdue University’s 40,000 students returned to campus this fall, they encountered fliers showing white men in Oxford shirts and arm tattoos, and bearing the message: “Our Generation; Our Future; Our Last Chance.”
The fliers featured an ancient Germanic symbol called the “Dragon’s Eye” and a link to the website of a group called Identity Evropa. That’s the white supremacist group perhaps best known for helping organize the white-shirt-and-khaki-clad young white men who marched across the University of Virginia’s campus chanting “You will not replace us” and “blood and soil” (a Nazi slogan) at the outset of the deadly “Unite the Right” rallies in Charlottesville in August.
The fliers at Purdue, a public research university in Indiana, are part of a national campus recruiting drive #ProjectSeige to capitalize on the notoriety the group gained in Charlottesville. Judging from Identity Evropa’s Twitter feed, the campaign has hit the University of California, Irvine, Stockton University in New Jersey, the University of Texas, Dallas, and the University of Virginia, among others. “#ProjectSiege is the beginning of a long-term cultural war of attrition against academia’s Cultural Marxist narrative,” the group’s website reads.
Founded in March 2016, Identity Evropa represents the young, spiffed-up image that white nationalist groups are trying to project. While the white skinhead, Confederate-tattooed contingent continues to organize (and showed up in Charlottesville), the new aesthetic of white supremacy is concerned with optics; it’s preppy, tweed-clad and purportedly well-read.
The campaign at Purdue was organized by Jack Richardson, Great Lakes regional coordinator for Identity Evropa (which includes Indiana). He said he became “red pilled” — terminology for “woke” among people who identify with the so-called alt-right — while he was studying mechanical engineering in his sophomore year at a university in Indiana that he wouldn’t identify. He considered joining other groups within the alt-right or white nationalist ecosphere such as the Traditionalist Worker Party (“I didn’t like the aesthetic”) and Vanguard America (“it was trying too hard to be edgy”), before settling on Identity Evropa.
Richardson still lives in Indiana (he wouldn’t say what town), and he now works in “disaster recovery.” He says his recruitment efforts at Purdue, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, were “productive.”
Surge of interest
While this isn’t the first time Identity Evropa has tried to recruit on campus, Richardson said the events in Charlottesville have driven a surge of interest in the group. “The Unite the Right rally undeniably intensified the ongoing culture war, and we have received a correspondingly high level of interest,” he said.
It’s hard to know whether groups like Identity Evropa’s recruitment efforts are paying off. In February, in an interview with The Tab, Identity Evropa founder Nathan Damigo said their membership was 300-strong. Richardson claims they now boast a membership of nearly 1,000 members nationwide, and that they define a member as “anyone that has passed our interview process and pays dues.”
However, researchers from the Southern Poverty Law Center caution that groups like Identity Evropa regularly exaggerate membership numbers to seem more powerful than they are.
The membership application for Identity Evropa asks applicants to disclose whether they are of “European, non-Semitic heritage,” whether they have “visible tattoos,” and if they’ve been convicted of a felony. The final step is a video conference call interview “with one of our trained members.”
“We wanted to push back in the places where students feel most alienated and disillusioned.”
Richardson said the group picks target campuses based on whether they teach an “anti-white” curriculum and the possibility there might be a disaffected white population there. “We wanted to push back in the places where students feel most alienated and disillusioned, where they’re constantly told ‘You as a white person are uniquely evil and must constantly atone for the sins of your forefathers,’” he said.
Identity Evropa was founded in 2016 by Nathan Damigo while he was a student at California State University to promote “European identity and solidarity.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Damigo had been involved with other white supremacist groups in the past but was inspired to start his own group after reading material written by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.
Racism in the open
Considering that Identity Evropa was founded just last year, it’s remarkable how fast they’ve gotten their message out. During the 2016-2017 academic year, the Anti-Defamation League tracked 65 incidents involving fliers or posters by Identity Evropa on campuses across 19 states. Nor does the group live in the shadows. For example, on Aug. 6, 2017, Identity Evropa members interrupted a pro-immigration forum at Miami Dade College by barging onto the stage and unfurling their banner with their logo. They pulled a similar stunt in June, interrupting a racial justice seminar at a museum in Miami. They’ve also shown up at rallies in St. Paul, Minnesota; Orlando, Florida; and Berkeley, California.
The Identity Evropa fliers are also not the first time Purdue’s campus has been targeted by white nationalist groups. After the November election and then again in February, students reported seeing fliers for Vanguard America, the white supremacist youth group that was also present in Charlottesville.
Purdue University president Mitch Daniels dismissed the possibility that anyone from Purdue could be involved with Identity Evropa.
“There is zero evidence that any member of the Purdue community is involved in these leaflets.”
“There is zero evidence that any member of the Purdue community is involved in these leaflets, and there is nothing new to say about the situation,” Daniels said in a statement provided to VICE News. “We reiterate our past statements and our disinclination to do exactly what these despicable people want most, which is to give them attention their miniscule numbers and their abhorrent views do not merit.”
Bill Mullen, a professor of English and American Studies at Purdue, thinks Daniels needs to take a stronger stand. “The president of the college is committed to an absolutist position on free speech,” said Mullen. “He put out a tepid, ambiguous statement about the Vanguard posters. Students were outraged he couldn’t come out and condemn fascism outright, and that spirit of dissidence has carried over into the fall.”
“None of us are surprised that we’ve been hit again,” Mullen added.
Mullen helped start a Campus Antifascist Network in June along with 40 other faculty members at schools across the country, seeking to combat the encroachment of white nationalist rhetoric on campuses. Mullen said he believes that Purdue students are involved and he provided VICE News with screenshots of social media accounts of students that appear to be connected to the group.
David Snyder, a senior and editor-in-chief of the Purdue Review, said it’s possible. “Purdue is in Indiana, so that’s a redder state than, say, California, so I expect there’s probably a few more people sympathetic here than at UC Berkeley,” he said. “I don’t know of any groups on campus.”
“This was an organization that was going to go places.”
Identity Evropa’s very professional website and well-designed materials were part of its appeal for Richardson. “Nathan Damigo was very good at articulating the concept of identity and the importance of it in a way that was very appealing and compelling,” he said. “That’s why I got involved. This was an organization that was going to go places.”
Damigo stepped down as Identity Evropa’s leader over the summer and handed the baton to Eli Mosely, whose real name is “Elliott Kline” who lives in Reading, Pennsylvania. Experts have speculated that Damigo’s resignation may have been a preemptive effort among the so-called alt-right to save face: In April, Damigo was seen on video sucker-punching a female counterprotester in Berkeley. The incident is under investigation and could lead to a warrant for his arrest. He was also arrested on a misdemeanor charge in Charlottesville and released soon after.