The Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom is slated to become the first university-based student group in the country to be classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The center will place MSU’s chapter of the far-right student group Young Americans for Freedom on its list of American hate groups in April, said Heidi Beirich, deputy director of the center’s intelligence project.
The center sends its list to about 50,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation each year. Many of the agencies use it to monitor hateful and extremist activity, she said.
The center’s report included 25 hate groups in Michigan last year, including the Nation of Islam in Detroit, the American Nazi Party in Westland and the National Socialist Movement in Grand Rapids.
Beirich said the MSU chapter’s proposals to cut funding to minority student organizations and establish an all-white student council on MSU’s student government prompted the center to include it on the new list.
“We generally deem a group a hate group if they have an ideology that denigrates an entire class of people for their inherent traits,” she said.
MSU spokesman Terry Denbow said MSU has no plans to end the University’s recognition of its YAF chapter, although campus life officials may review the group’s activities.
He said MSU won’t make a decision based on the recommendation of an outside organization.
“I know of no violation of the criteria at this time,” Denbow said, referring to MSU’s requirements for recognition as an official student organization. “Once you start allowing external groups to establish criteria, that begins a slippery slope within the free marketplace of ideas.”
Kyle Bristow, the chairman of MSU’s YAF chapter, said in a written statement that the center is only out to discourage conservative activism.
“The SPLC is extremely left-wing,” Bristow said. “They don’t have a right to compare us to groups like the KKK when we’re not like that.”
Berich said the center began considering adding the MSU chapter of YAF to the hate group list after its November protest of a Lansing ordinance to prohibit the harassment of individuals based on criteria including race, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion.
During the protest, several members held up signs with slogans such as “Straight Power” and “End Faggotry.”
The University of Michigan’s chapter of YAF drew protests when it held “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” on campus last fall.
University of Michigan YAF Co-Chair Clark Ruper said he disagrees with the SPLC’s decision to start calling the MSU chapter of YAF a hate group.
“The SPLC hate group list serves a good purpose, but unfortunately they often overstep their bounds,” Ruper said.
He said the MSU chapter stands out to the SPLC because of the controversial statements it makes.
“While MSU YAF’s actions may seem extreme, they are necessary to get the conservative message across on predominantly liberal campuses,” Ruper said.
Beirich said the MSU chapter doesn’t represent the ideals and actions of other YAF branches.
“The national YAF organization doesn’t have any of these principles or beliefs at all,” Beirich said. “I don’t even understand the relationship between the two groups.”
Ruper said the national YAF organization has no control over its chapters. Although it has the same name, it isn’t sanctioned by the national organization, he said.
“However, we all follow the Sharon Statement,” Ruper said.
YAF adopted the Sharon Statement at a conference in 1960. The statement advocates individual freedom and limitations on government power.