While many have looked to President Donald Trump for a response to recent white supremacist rallies which have resulted in violence around the country, a group of Stanislaus State students are calling on a different president, University President Ellen Junn, to take action against student Nathan Damigo, a well-known white supremacist who helped to organize rallies in both Charlottesville and Berkeley.
Junn was scheduled to deliver her annual Fall Welcome Address at the school’s Snider Recital Hall Monday afternoon – an event which typically gives the president the chance to let the university community know what’s planned for the upcoming school year, and what the administration hopes to accomplish. This year’s address took an unexpected turn, however, when protestors held banners reading “When you give Nazis a platform they bring torches, expel Damigo” and “Don’t let what happened in Charlottesville happen here,” in front of the stage where Junn was speaking, just one minute into her speech. Minutes later, chants of “Stand against hate at Stan State” echoed throughout the auditorium from those holding banners and protestors seated in the audience.
Protestor and Masters student Jon Grammatico said that the Fall Address was an ideal place of protest to gain the public’s attention, and, most importantly, Junn’s.
“This is an event that does get a lot of attention…it welcomes incoming students, and we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to let President Junn know that these aren’t issues we’ve forgotten about,” said Grammatico. “On a national level, these things are only escalating, and something that there needs to be a focus on for the rest of the semester is combatting these types of white supremacy and organized hate speech.”
It’s not the first time Stanislaus Students have brought attention to the issue of white supremacy on campus. In April, a video depicting Damigo punching a woman in the face at protests in Berkeley surfaced, and members of the student body urged administration to expel the white supremacist during a rally held in the campus’ quad. At the time, Junn stated that she was doing all she could to promote diversity on campus, including the development of several clubs and commissions, and that Damigo’s actions did not constitute hate speech, but free speech.
In October, Damigo made headlines when he posted flyers with the words “Let’s Become Great Again” and “Protect Your Heritage” around campus – recruitment efforts for Identity Evropa, a group Damigo founded and defines as “awakened Europeans.”
A recent rally in Charlottesville, which turned violent, was organized with the help of Damigo, who was scheduled to be a speaker at the event. A clash between participants in the rally and counter protestors resulted in the death of one woman, and two state troopers also died as a result of the day’s events. Countless others were injured.
“If this guy was black, the police would have had him in jail. If this guy was Muslim, the FBI would’ve had him in Guantanamo Bay,” said Anthony Castillo of Be the Change Turlock, who helped organize Monday’s protest. “There’s a clear double standard that’s being applied here. This guy is inciting violence, planning violence, this is domestic terrorism, this shouldn’t be allowed.”
The protestors asked three things of Junn during their demonstration: the expulsion of Damigo, the enactment of a zero-tolerance policy against all white supremacist activity and an apology to the student body for “endangering not just the campus, but the nation by allowing white supremacists to organize on this campus.”
Junn was unable to get a word in as the protestors called for their wishes to be granted, and ultimately had to step off the stage in order to have a one-on-one conversation with those holding the signs. She explained first to the audience that she applauded and commended the students for standing up for what they believe in, and stated that earlier in the day, she met with several of the protestors, as well as members of the Associated Students, Inc., and the University Student Union regarding Damigo.
“We live in a very turbulent and difficult, challenging time, and this is great that our students are taking part and having a voice,” said Junn. “…I’m glad you’re here and that you’re concerned – that is a good thing – but we also have to conduct ourselves in ways that allow for understanding all the different complexities of the law.”
Ultimately, Junn was able to continue her Fall Address, but not before asking a simple question to the protestors.
“How can we solve this problem? What would you like to do?” she asked.
A student seated in the crowd held up a sign, which listed the school’s grounds for expulsion.
“What’s the hold up?” a protestor asked Junn after reading the sign, which listed conduct that threatens the campus community, including threats and intimidation, as reasons a student can be expelled from the university. “Nathan Damigo’s actions fall under all those things, yet he remains on this campus.”
“We’re talking about the law and American Government, the judicial system,” responded Junn.
Grammatico understands the free speech defense for Damigo, but believes the student’s controversial actions have crossed the line.
“I think free speech stops when people think other people’s lives should stop,” he said. “I think that in order to get some of the demands we want, we have to be able to listen, but I also think we have to be able to be heard. We have to be able to be understood, and I think we need to be taken seriously.”