Hate at Iowa State: What police are doing to fight against racism on campus


Michael Heckle

It’s been nearly a year since the Daily first reported on a string of white nationalist posters illegally displayed at various locations across campus. The posters, about 35 in total, featured a host of inflammatory messages set in front of a strange, red symbol. 

“White students you are not alone be proud of your heritage,” one said. “In 1950 America was 90 percent white, it is now only 60 percent white. Will you become a minority in your own country?” read another. 

At the time, students who spoke to the Daily were hurt, angered by the presence of blatant hatred on what is supposed to be an inclusive space and frustrated by the perceived lack of response from administration and police. 

Now, a year later, the students face additional rounds of white nationalist material posted both on and off campus on everything from emergency phones to school-board campaign signs. 

But this year is a bit different. The posters themselves have evolved, featuring new, more subtle messages and advertising at least two separate white nationalist websites, “The Right Stuff” and “A Right To Exist.”

“Those posters really are on the fringe,” said ISU Police Chief Michael Newton. “They’re being posted in spots where they don’t belong. The poster itself supports a hate organization, but there’s nothing that really normally screams hate. But when you go to the link on there, you can definitely see it.”

Iowa State isn’t unique either. Police say similar posters have been found littering college campuses across the country, oftentimes featuring the same strange, red symbol: a jera.

Despite what many originally suspected, this symbol isn’t just a broken up swastika. Rather, it is, according to police, a historic rune that, despite its many innocuous meanings, has been adopted by white nationalist and other hate-based organizations across the United States.

ISU Police have also revamped their response, renaming their multicultural liaison program Engagement and Inclusion Officers (EIO) and doubling the amount of officers participating.

The EIOs have also partnered with the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion to help measure the climate of inclusion on campus.

“One of the best things about being paired with the VP DI Office is they kind of give us an idea about what is the pulse of the campus,” said Deputy Police Chief Carrie Jacobs. “What are students of color talking about? What are students in the LGBTIQ area talking about? What are the Latino groups talking about? The Asian groups, all the groups? What is it that they’re thinking about, what is it that’s bothering them?”

The EIOs have also played a large part in researching the history of these posters and organizations, as well as hosting events to create a more meaningful conversation on campus.

Jacobs, who heads the EIOs, says the team has traced the origin of the posters to a white nationalist organization called Vanguard America. 

In a separate investigation, the Daily traced the website “A Right to Exist” to a Josh Holawitz, whose address listed in domain records is in Denver. The website “Purity Spiral,” a neo-Nazi organization, is also registered under Holawitz’s name. 

The past few weeks have shown both progress and problems in the fight against hate at Iowa State. Iowa State’s fourth Campus Conversation, a presentation on hate crime, was foreshadowed by a suspected case of hate-motivated harassment at Friley Hall the just days before the event.

In that case, police investigated reports of harassment involving racially motivated statements and a drawing on a door-mounted white board. While police wouldn’t disclose the precise nature of the comments or drawing, Newton said they were “definitely hurtful and hateful.”

The conversation itself featured a presentation on hate crime by ISU Police Lt. Joshua Hale and Officer Natasha Greene, followed by a group discussion about the nature of inclusion on campus and what police can do to help. 

During the event, Hale and Greene clarified that the term “hate crime” in Iowa Code is simply an enhancement to a select few other crimes.

In Iowa, the only four crimes eligible for an enhancement are assault, arson, trespassing and criminal mischief. This means that cases of harassment, like the one reported at Friley, would not meet the standards for a hate-crime enhancements, regardless of the perpetrators motivations.   

“In order for it to be a hate crime, it must be committed against a person or person’s property because of the person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability,” Hale said at the event.

This puts the posters in a strange legal limbo in regards to hate crime enhancements. Since the posters were put up in a public sphere, they legally do not target a specific person, meaning they would not be eligible for hate crime enhancements. 

Police, instead, are focusing on how the posters violate Iowa’s criminal mischief statues. The “nasty” adhesive that makes the posters so difficult to remove also goes a long way in proving damages to property.

“The people who are putting these posters up, if they really wanted to keep them up, they’d follow the policy and just put them up on the bulletin boards. But that’s not their intent.” Jacobs said. “They want to get the publicity, they want to get the coverage and the only way to do that is to put them where they’re not supposed to.”

Police are also asking students to refrain from tearing down these, or similar posters. Rather, students should report them to police in order to allow officers to collect any evidence that may remain on the material. 

There is also a change in student reaction to these posters compared to last year, according to Jacobs. The fear, in large part, has subsided, students are now curious, asking question about the posters and why police take them down.

“The first time, back in 2016, it caused a lot of concern and fear for our students.” Jacobs said. “However, this last time, and I think this has a lot to do with our community changing gears a bit and understanding that they need to be in more of a support role rather than an apathetic role, but this time around I didn’t hear the fear statement. Instead it was more, just very factual questions.”

The blip in hate motivated behaviors at Iowa State is also reflected in the 2017 Annual Safety Report, which saw hate crimes spike from one in 2015 to five in 2017. 

“We are seeing a trend of more hate and more behaviors that definitely fit into that category,” Newton said. “That seems to be across the country.” 

Police are unsure whether or not this spike stems from an increase in hate crimes themselves, or if more people are simply coming forward. Either way, police are asking students if they see something, say something.