by Sophia Ordaz and Emily Gist
Flyers advertising a jacket drive organized by the Collegiate Union of National Corporatists sparked controversy because of what some students and professors suspect to be connections to white supremacy arising from the group’s fascist political views.
The flyers were found the week of Sept. 12 at billboards in Irby Hall and public kiosks around campus, including kiosks in front of Old Main, the Student Center Amphitheater and Torreyson Library. Senior lecturer in the philosophy and religion department Phillip Spivey was one of the first faculty members to be made aware of the flyers.
In an email to CUNC, Spivey called the jacket drive a “not-so-clever recruitment tool,” and said that faculty would actively be removing the flyers and dissuading students from participating in the drive. He concluded the email by telling CUNC to “take your white ethnostate and stick it up your ass.”
A representative of CUNC who declined to identify himself rejected claims that the group holds white supremacist beliefs and said CUNC were “victims of defamation by the collegiate institution.”
The representative cited a blog post titled “CUNC and Race” on the organization’s website, which states that “Prejudice solely on the basis of racial difference is disingenuous and destructive as an idea.”
“Our platform has never made mention of white supremacy, an ethnostate or anything of the sort as being an ideal we have as a political organization,” the representative said in an email to The Echo. “These claims were fabrications, constructed by ‘academics’ who claim to hold the knowledge of exceptional perception.”
The representative said CUNC chooses not to label its political philosophy as its members hold a variety of beliefs. However, the stances CUNC does hold collectively include advocating for traditionalism and opposing materialism, classical liberalism and pure capitalism and socialism, the representative said.
“Our members have a wide array of beliefs, reaching from one extreme of mutualist anarchism to that of Stalinism and even fascism, plus everything in between. Some students have called the CUNC Third Positionist. However, radicalization is not a requirement nor is it fully representative of our members,” the CUNC representative said.
The CUNC site contains a multitude of references to fascists and fascism. The group cites Giovanni Gentile, who is popularly considered the philosopher of fascism, and Oswald Mosley, who formed the British Union of Fascists in 1932. In its blog, the group advocates for a dominant monolithic American culture.
Jared Holt, a research associate at Right Wing Watch and a UCA alumnus, said the site is reminiscent of “fashwave,” an online trend popular among young alt-right sympathizers, neo-Nazis and neo-fascists. Fashwave appropriates vaporwave, a niche internet genre of ‘80s retro-futurism characterized by neon colors, Greco-Roman symbolism and pixel painting. In fact, the image on CUNC’s landing page depicting a solitary figure superimposed on a futuristic cityscape was designated as a popular fashwave image by a 2018 Mic article.
“Fashwave is primarily an online thing,” Holt said. “It was leveraged … to try to make the alt-right edgy or cool in some way.”
Although the group seems to align itself with fascism, Holt said the group does not reveal any apparent white nationalist ideology.
“There is one element missing from the equation at the moment: racial identitarianism,” Holt said. “There are many red flags surrounding this group’s professed ideology and the pattern it follows with the historical formation of fascist and white nationalist groups, but there’s not yet a professed idealization that explicitly states a white nationalist mission.”
Despite the lack of definitive messaging connecting the group to white supremacy, students have voiced their concerns. Senior Keely Smith said the presence of the group at UCA makes her uncomfortable.
“I love UCA, and I don’t want to see something so hateful and vile taking place on a campus I care so much about,” Smith said.
Junior Juan Melendez said he originally thought the jacket drive flyer was posted by a misguided conservative organization, but that when he witnessed the language on the CUNC website, his suspicion of the group turned to fear.
“I do not know whether CUNC is a fascist organization, but I do know that it presents itself as a conservative nationalist organization being run out of my city. That was a scary thought,” Melendez said.
The CUNC representative said that since the controversy surrounding the group, they have received hate mail and threats and that they prefer to keep the names of group members and the group numbers confidential.
“We believe the academic institution is hostile to us at this time because of the poor actions by Phillip Spivey, so confidentiality is just a precautionary measure at this time,” the representative said in an email.
Because CUNC did not actively condone violence or present any signs of hate speech, its flyers fall under the right to free speech. Director of Media Relations Amanda Hoelzeman said only UCA building administrators and the Department of Student Life are allowed to remove materials that do not comply with campus policy. If people outside of those groups were to tear down the flyers, they would violate the group’s free speech protections.
According to the 2018-2019 student handbook, only UCA students and RSOs may post flyers on the UCA campus. CUNC is made up of all UCA students, according to their emails to The Echo, but Hoelzeman said, “Groups are not allowed to distribute literature on campus until they follow the process and are confirmed as a “Recognized Student Organizations.”
Despite this policy, buildings like Irby Hall have a loose implementation of those rules.
Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Peter Mehl said the billboards in the halls of Irby have plaques stating that if anyone wants to post on them, he has to get permission from the dean of that floor. Even so, these plaques are often covered by other flyers.
Mehl said any boards without this plaque are supposed to abide by general school guidelines, but are not closely regulated.
“We don’t have anything other than a general university policy, which nobody really enforces too well,” Mehl said. “So we really don’t have a real definite policy, and maybe we need one.”
CUNC emails stated that the group was formed in January 2018 and is headquartered at UCA. The group added that they have plans for future fundraisers for Renewal Ranch, Habitat for Humanity and Big Brother Big Sister, and to further its political engagement.
“Political engagement is mostly within the walls of the group, with reading sessions, debates and even panels being on the horizon soon. Our external purpose is to serve the people of Faulkner County, not politicize or divide it,” the representative said.
Holt said that in his research, fringe groups often use fundraisers to make themselves more approachable to those with moderate beliefs. He cited Identity Evropa, a white supremacist organization geared toward college students that also uses fashwave symbology and conducts community outreach programs like jacket drives and park cleanups.
“Especially because it’s volunteer-based, people get the idea that groups like this are doing good work in the community and they want to get involved,” Holt said. “Behind closed doors in private, these conversations could often switch to something much more sinister, I’ve seen in my work. Which is a bit troubling, but the whole sort of recruitment process to get more moderate people involved involves reaching a sense of shared agreement on a broader issue and then slowly introducing more radical aspects to it.”
CUNC’s more radical leanings align the group with Third Position ideology, a political philosophy that opposes both capitalism and communism, and has popularly been championed by neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.
“This group is entering territory that a run-of-the-mill right-wing group would be strained to entertain. This is a fringe political movement and many signs indicate that if it is to advance forward, it could head toward the extreme fringe,” Holt said.