On Monday morning February 1st, janitorial staff at the University of Oregon discovered the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Alliance had been broken into; computer screens and the TV were spray painted over and a swastika had been spray painted on the carpet. Being former staff at the student organization, myself, I was one of the many people deeply impacted.
Students responded by swiftly organizing a series of rallies. Only one day after the vandalism was discovered, 300 community members turned out for a vigil and speakout - an impressive number considering Eugene's relatively small size. Many community members came up to the mic to speak, including the mayor.
Public Safety on campus came to collect evidence, which it will be turning over to local police soon. After they cut out a square in the carpet where the swastika was painted, student government quickly replaced it was a message of love and concern to help the LGBTQ population know that the larger campus values them.
As the story gets repeated and spread throughout the news, many people are baffled and wondering why. Locals who know the community, however, aren't wondering at all. There's been a brewing conflict over the past few months with a community organization that is accused of promoting a nazi ideology, the Pacifica Forum.
It is hard to definitively assign an ideology to the Pacifica Forum, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as they tend to welcome a wide variety of perspectives. It just so happens that they include holocaust deniers, presentations of NARTH research on homosexuality as a pathology, as well as those who believe the Jews caused the holocaust, those who believe the Jews deserved the holocaust, and at least one self-identified nazi who conveniently posed for a picture doing a nazi salute (see update).
The non-campus group meets in campus rooms reserved for them by a retired professor. Students have recently been organizing to eject them from the space, pointing out that they do more than explore an unpopular perspective but actively threaten students. For example, after a student challenged them on the idea that the Jews deserved the holocauset, her features were scrutinized and she was asked if she was Jewish. More recently, and documented by the local paper, one Pacifica Forum member declared that a community member was "too ugly to rape." When a student pointed out the sexism in his statement, he responded that she wasn't unattractive - the veiled implication being that she could be raped.
There's nothing so far to tie the crime to the Pacifica Forum. It's far more likely that the recent conflict has stirred frustrations among local neo-nazis and white supremacists. But regardless it's clear that this did not happen in a vacuum, and it's no accident that the vandals chose swastikas as their preferred symbol of hate. The intersection of oppressive ideologies was an issue that many of the speakers picked up on. I recorded some of the speakers, and rather than describe their words, I'll close by letting them speak for themselves.
Correction: The woman pictured giving the nazi salute is not the same person who self-identifies as a nazi, Jimmy Marr. The woman pictured above has not publicly identified herself as a nazi.
Women and Gender Studies Professor Ernesto Martinez
LGBTQA co-director Alex Esparza
Ethnic Studies Department Chair Michael Hames-Garcia