It may not have surprised some of you when we learned that MSU's Young Americans for Freedom was about to be listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, a civil rights organization dedicated to tracking the activity of such groups across the nation.
We have all seen the hateful and bigoted rhetoric MSU's YAF spews forth on a daily basis. We've all seen its racist sidewalk chalk messages, its homophobic protest signs and other attempts to spread its deranged worldview around campus.
When The State News reported MSU's YAF would be listed, a spokesperson for the SPLC stressed the upcoming report was specifically about chairman Kyle Bristow and his cohorts, having nothing to do with the national YAF, saying, "In the case of the national YAF, they don't have these principles or beliefs at all nothing they believe has anything to do with what Kyle Bristow says."
The national YAF disagrees. On Monday, it took out a half-page ad in this newspaper expressing its support for its affiliate and condemning the SPLC. Bristow himself has been very adamant about his group's relationship to mainstream conservatism, and for once I agree with him: MSU's YAF is not just a radical fringe group. While certainly radical, it is anything but fringe.
Bristow and his ilk are not an aberration; they are exactly the people who the conservative elite are looking for to succeed them in the halls of power. YAF is part of a well-funded, nationally coordinated campaign to raise conservatism's profile on college campuses and to train and recruit future leaders of the conservative movement. This fact doesn't serve to legitimate YAF's insanity as "mainstream," but rather serves to illustrate how radical supposedly "mainstream" conservatism has become.
William Allen, the faculty sponsor for MSU's YAF, is affiliated with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a right-wing nonprofit whose mission is to cultivate conservative ideas and activism on college campuses, which it sees as being dominated by the left. The group claims to have representatives at "over 900 colleges, and with more than 50,000 student and faculty members on virtually every campus in the country."
The ISI, through its support of the Collegiate Network, also administers nearly 80 conservative student newspapers on campuses nationwide. One of those newspapers was the Spartan Spectator, which was founded as a print newspaper in 2000 by Jason Van Dyke, a right-wing student activist at MSU who was the Bristow of his time. Bristow is the current editor of the Spectator, which is no longer in print but continues to exist as YAF's official blog.
Recent Spectator highlights include referring to Latinos as "savages" and "animals," referring to gays and lesbians, including the Between the Lines journalist who originally broke the hate group story in December, as "homos," calling transgendered people and their supporters "freaks" and linking to a video on www.YouTube.com featuring a convicted terrorist ranting about killing Mexicans and the "New World Order." Bristow's stated goal is to return the Spectator to print.
MSU's YAF also is closely associated with the Leadership Institute, a conservative think tank whose mission is to "identify, recruit, train and place conservatives in politics, government and media." Graduates of this program include none other than Karl Rove. Through its Campus Leadership Project, the institute distributes media kits, provides talking points and leadership training and coordinates events. Last year's "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" event, which occurred or was planned at many colleges, including the University of Michigan and Penn State University, bears all the hallmarks of this type of coordination.
Though MSU's YAF claims to be nonpartisan, it works closely with MSU College Republicans. The cooperation ranges from co-sponsoring events to having their chairmen appear together on "The O'Reilly Factor." MSU College Republicans have even gone so far as to adopt MSU's YAF's extreme immigration position, though the College Republican National Committee officially supports President Bush's amnesty proposal. Both groups are sponsoring an event featuring Chris Simcox, the founder of the Minutemen vigilante group.
It may be tempting to think of MSU's YAF as an abnormality, quarantined from the rest of the political discourse. The unfortunate reality is that people like Kyle Bristow, who is claimed to have been described as "the future of the Republican party" by a GOP delegate, are being groomed to be the next generation of conservative leaders. This should concern us all, liberals and conservatives alike.
Mike Ramsey is the State News cartoonist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.