COMMENTARY: Free speech or white supremacy? Students concerned about safety after group vandalizes BC campus

May 30, 2019 /

A white supremacy group made their presence known at the tail end of the spring semester on the Bakersfield College campus, and following the bold statement, along came apologists from the school’s own staff.

Members of the anonymous white supremacist group — the Hundred-Handers — vandalized the main BC campus with dozens of stickers, some reading “feminism is cancer,” while another read “Tired of anti-white propaganda?”  

Of all the vandalism, Chicano Studies event posters saw it the worst with more stickers than anywhere else. The stickers on the flyers read, “Smash cultural Marxism.”

Following a mass email alerting students and staff of what I consider to be white supremacist vandalism, BC history professor Matthew Garrett wrote an Op-Ed for The Bakersfield Californian. He characterized the Hundred-Handers as “conservative” and claimed the Renegade Rip coordinated with the Office of Student Life to produce an article regarding the vandalism.

Both of these statements are simply untrue.

One glance at the Hundred-Handers’ official Twitter is enough to see the true goal of the group: a white ethnostate.  

“We’re an entirely anonymous international network of activists, each one a printing press in their own right,” the group said on Twitter. “We make activism accessible to all.”

The group operates anonymously, using vandalism as the primary way of recruiting new members. Recruits are asked to purchase a specific model of printer and ink and are given access to the host of stickers the group produces, according to the Twitter account.

Some stickers allude to the group simply being ultra-conservative, with come critiquing modern immigration policies and feminism. However, the majority of stickers are direct white supremacist propaganda.

The group’s twitter account boasts of stickers that say “Make America white again,” “Western civilization is white civilization,” and “Isn’t it time you take your own side?”

This group is not conservative. It is blatantly hateful.

Garrett reframed the argument of vandalism to a discussion on free speech. This shift completely misses the issue at hand — student safety.

This is not free speech. The vandals have not voiced their opinions in any official capacity or asked for an academic debate regarding their hateful beliefs. This is about the presence of white supremacy and the possible dangers it poses to minority members of the student body.

Garrett’s response sets a dangerous precedent for staff responses to issues of student safety. He paints the group as critical of immigration and “other liberal agendas,” rather than a group that targets minority students.

To take Garrett’s view is to bury our heads in the sand. He would prefer the vandals be viewed as non-violent, conservative vigilantes for free speech. The reality is the Hundred-Handers are promoters of white supremacy and the inevitable violence it brings.

The hateful stickers are reflective of the widespread growth of white supremacist groups in the United States.

White supremacist violence in the U.S. quadrupled between 2016 and 2017, according to a study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

During this time, there was also a 182 percent increase in the distribution of white supremacist propaganda from 2016 to 2017 alone.

According to CSU Chico lecturer Shawn Schwaller, white supremacy and white supremacist violence are undeniably linked.

Schwaller draws a connection between the rhetoric used by the Hundred-Handers to the rhetoric used by those who have carried out white supremacist violence in Bakersfield’s own backyard.

In 2012, Justin Cole Whittington, a Neo-Nazi from Oildale shouted “get the (expletive) out of Oildale,” before shooting at a convenience store owned by a Middle Eastern man. Before the incident, Whittington first shot at a Latino after yelling a racial slurs.

“If you break down both the words of Whittington and the messages on the Hundred-Handers stickers, they’re not all that different,” Schwaller said. “In fact, they’re much more similar than different.”

“Whittington was in fact, acting out to — in his racist belief system — to scare away a person of color and make Oildale, a town that is already a white enclave in greater Bakersfield, whiter,” Schwaller said.

Whittington, just one of the faces of white supremacy in Bakersfield, merely acted on his beliefs — the same beliefs espoused by the Hundred-Handers.

It is clear student safety has to be considered before staff debates the implications of free speech. Afterall, proponents of white supremacist propaganda aren’t looking for a debate. They are looking for dominance.

BC staff made the wise choice to not only stand against white supremacy but to protect its minority students by alerting them to the vandalism — even if it means ruffing the feathers of apologists on campus.

This story was made possible with a grant from California Humanities, in partnership with Bakersfield College.

South Kern Sol is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, youth reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.

Paige Atkison

Paige Atkison is a youth reporter for South Kern Sol. She is the editor in chief at The Renegade Rip at Bakersfield College and has been selected to partake in South Kern Sol's CA 2020: Democracy Media Fellowship.