Sunday, December 4, 2016


Harry Targ

White Supremacy on Campus

Purdue University students rallied and marched to the theme of “Love Trumps Hate” one week after the presidential election. Participants in the rally evidenced their concern for the rising environment of hate and racism brought on by the rhetoric of the recently concluded presidential campaign. Appeals were made to the Purdue President to speak out forcefully against threats to communities of color, immigrants, various ethnic groups, and the gay/lesbian community on campus.

Two weeks later, on Wednesday, November 30, members of the Purdue community discovered several flyers posted around campus exhorting students to defend white America from minorities and immigrants. The source, a white supremacist group called American Vanguard, claimed credit for posting flyers at several universities across the country. According to the Lafayette Journal and Courier, (Thursday, December 1, 2016) the website of the hate group declares the following in a manifesto titled TOTAL WAR: “We fight for a White America, but this can never happen unless we win the hearts and minds of our fellow White youth. We want to be at the forefront of the reawakening of White racial consciousness. In order to do this we must be willing to fight.”

Concerned members of the Purdue university community have been mobilizing support to urge the administration and faculty to make strong, pointed denunciations of these flyers and the seeming drift toward more racist incidents, including threats of violence against people of color. Many believe that the racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic sentiments that figured so prominently during the election campaign have reignited  white supremacy that is deeply embedded in U.S. history.

The Institute for Global Security and Defense Initiatives

During the same week the racist flyers were posted, Purdue University announced the establishment of a new research institute on campus: the Institute for Global Security and Defense Initiatives. The announcement of this research arm of the campus came as part of a two-day conference bringing together military officials, CEOs of corporations with huge military contracts, and selected faculty some of whom supported new war-related research dollars coming to campus  programs. According to the Purdue Exponent (Friday, December 2, 2016), the new institute will bring together under one roof research that involves “nanotechnology, social and behavioral sciences, big data analytics and simulations to produce solutions to issues facing national security and defense.”

Purdue President Mitch Daniels in his announcement of the Institute’s establishment said: “We live in a dangerous world in which we must continuously invent more, discover more, and innovate more than those who oppose us, and be able to deliver those technologies quickly into the hands of the people who use them to protect the rest of us.” The new interim director of the Institute echoed the concern for what he called “solving security issues.”

Purdue University this year has received $50 million in advanced defense research projects  (including a multi-million dollar research contract with Rolls Royce to produce “next generation aircraft propulsion systems”). The hope is that by centralizing all defense-related research, the university will make itself more attractive to corporations, the Defense Department, and the new Trump administration, the collaboration that former President Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”

There are several unexamined premises embedded in these huge collaborations between the defense establishment, the corporate sector, and the university. First, President Daniels recently reiterated his belief that the number one economic problem the U.S. economy faces is the federal debt. Military spending has accounted for at least half of all federal expenditures since World War Two, what international relations scholar Andrew Bacevich has called “the permanent war economy.”

Second, the long-term planning for war is based upon the proposition that war-making and preparation for war are perpetual needs of the federal government: not just basic security but ever more advanced investment of dollars in technological advances, more arms, and more soldiers, and public and private contract warriors. The dominant narrative of world affairs, perpetuated by many scholars, defense intellectuals, and pundits, most of whom have a stake in the war system, is that war is inevitable. Little research emphasis is placed on war prevention, conflict-resolution, or working with other nations and international organizations to reduce tensions and violence in the world.

Third, increased military research and development,  new rounds of armaments, and the further globalization of the U.S. military will inadvertently accelerate the drift toward ecological disaster (a concern reflected in other research spaces at Purdue University). This is so particularly because the military is a major consumer of fossil fuels today.

Fourth, and relevant to the rise of racism and white supremacy on campuses across the country is the new defense agenda, illustrated by the Purdue Institute for Global Security and Defense. The overwhelming victims of death, destruction, and forced migration around the world today are people of color. Historically, during the height of the colonial era, three-quarters of humankind was ruled by a small minority of Europeans and North Americans. U.S. politicians of both political parties since the rise of the United States to global power after World War Two have articulated the view that it is “the indispensable nation” in world affairs. The ideological justification for the United States spending more on the military than most of the other nations of the world combined is the premise that it, as one country, has the obligation to decide on the security of the globe.

The movements initiated by students on campuses to resist hate and racism are vitally important. Today these movements constitute the main defense against the resurgence of a new round of white supremacy.

In addition, in the long run it is important for social movements to see the connections between white supremacy at home and the belief in American exceptionalism abroad. They are comfortable ideological bed-fellows. They reinforce each other. They justify each other. And they have to be opposed together if we are ever to have a secure, multi-cultural world, where social and economic justice prevails.