Staff members of Franklin College’s physical facilities department found flyers asking members of the community to join the America First Nationalists Union, or AFNU, Monday morning.
AFNU promotes the idea of “America First,” which emphasizes isolating the United States from other countries. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate speech in Indiana and across the country, has designated groups that promote this idea as hate organizations. Many are tied to anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, according to the SPLC.
The flyers included the group’s logo and a quote from President Donald Trump that read, “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.” The bottom of the page included an email for the Indiana chapter and Instagram accounts for the state and national organization.
Greg Potter, who works for physical facilities, took them down Monday when he found them near the Modern Language House and the Arthur Wilson Living/Learning Community on Forsythe Street, located on the east side of campus. The Arthur Wilson Community serves as a space for Black students to gather and share their experiences on campus.
Potter said the location of the flyers worried him because it seemed that they could be targeting students of color.
“Do they know people at the college that know where the students of color reside? That is my concern,” Potter said.
Potter said he notified security immediately after finding the flyers and wants to see a public response from college leaders as to what they are doing to protect students who feel unsafe.
“The college needs to come out and say they are looking into it and they need to increase police patrol,” Potter said. “I believe it could hurt retention of our people of color.”
Kalyn Johnson, residence life area coordinator and Center for Diversity and Inclusion program coordinator, issued a statement on behalf of Franklin College’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion Monday.
“The CDI Director and I were made aware of the flyers this morning. The CDI does not condone racism or Nazi propaganda,” the statement read. “The CDI does not support this group, and they have not been in contact with us to promote these flyers in our campus community. We are working with campus security to get to the bottom of this issue.”
A leader with the AFNU said in an email the group supports capitalism, bringing American troops home, limiting immigration, and “safeguarding core parts” of America’s “history, founding values, and collective identity.” The group did not immediately respond to the statement from the CDI accusing them of promoting racism or Nazi propaganda.
A leader with the group also said Tuesday they are disappointed with the CDI’s statement, arguing they are not racist and do not promote Nazi propaganda.
“Generally, accusations of ‘racism’ and especially ‘Nazi propaganda’ are nothing more than political cudgels,” the group said in a statement. “If you feel that any specific part of our platform is racist, please let us know and we would be happy to disprove that. Until such action is taken, though, these baseless charges merely display a lack of open-mindedness.”
The group also said they recently changed their name to the “America First Union,” removing the term “Nationalist” in an attempt to deter ethnic nationalists like white supremacists. This change wasn’t reflected in the flyers that appeared on campus or on social media, however.
It remains unclear exactly when the flyers were posted, but Potter said security discovered them on Friday. Security Director Steve Leonard and Dean of Students Andrew Jones said they will provide commentary after investigating the situation.
President Kerry Prather said Tuesday that because the topic is still fresh, much is still unknown. He commends the staff of the physical plant staff for taking the flyers down, but realizes that it doesn’t undo what happened.
“There’s a limit to your ability to keep narrow minded people from doing narrow minded things, but our obligation is to wrap our arms around our own community, and let them be reassured that we will protect and support them,” Prather said.
Andrew Jones, vice president for student development and dean of students, and Steve Leonard, director of security and Title IX coordinator, said Wednesday that, after investigating the incident, the flyers currently pose no threat to students. But they said they will take action if that changes.
Jones said that after his research, there is no reason to suspect the flyers were posted with racist or xenophobic intent and that no specific students or student groups appear to be targeted.
“I don’t have any evidence that the organization has any ill intent,” Jones said.
Additionally, Jones and Leonard said not much can be done given that Forsythe Street is technically not on campus, since the sidewalks and road belong to the city of Franklin.
“We don’t have control of what happens on a public street or public utility poles,” Leonard said.
Jones and Leonard also said they have not made any contact with the organization behind the flyers. Instead, they have searched for information on the web, but they haven’t been reading every comment on every post because those may not truly reflect the organization's values. They are primarily looking for blatant red flags.
“I’m giving it a good, thorough look, but not scouring,” Leonard said. “There is an amount of research that can be done, I think, to assure that there’s not a threat to campus, but I think that needs to be a reasonable amount of research.”
To Leonard’s knowledge, students are not concerned about the incident. No students have reached out to Leonard or him for support in reaction to the incident.
Following disturbing incidents in the community, the college often releases statements to the student body that encourage adherence to the school’s values. But Jones said that’s not being considered here because the flyers were posted off campus and presented no perceivable threat.
While there likely won’t be a statement, Jones said that students who are concerned should contact Leonard or him. They can also send a message to Terri Roberts-Leonard, director of the Franklin Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
In the wake of what happened, Jones’s message to students is pay attention to their surroundings so they will know a threat when they see one. He said he wants all students to feel welcome and safe.