Officials at Arizona State University probably weren’t expecting the full Stormfront treatment when its English department advertised a spring semester class exploring the “problem of whiteness.”
But that’s exactly what the university got. The floodgates opened in late January after an ASU journalism student complained on Fox News that the class singled out white people as “the root cause of social injustices for this country.” Neo-Nazi types and white supremacists then reportedly threatened the white professor who was teaching the course, Lee Bebout. They publicly shared his personal contact information and flooded message boards with menacing rants against him.
TPM recently spoke with the leader of a white nationalist group that’s leading the charge against the “problem of whiteness” class, an effort they have dubbed “Operation Bad Teacher.” The leader of the group, Angelo John Gage, argued that Bebout’s course was “racist” and a sign of what he said was the increasing oppression of white people in the U.S. He insisted on speaking to TPM via Skype because he said he wasn’t comfortable giving his phone number to people he didn’t know.
He also insisted that his group was not the one behind the threats to the professor.
Gage is an ex-Marine from New Jersey who chairs the National Youth Front, a youth-oriented arm of the white nationalist organization American Freedom Party. The group used to be known as the American Third Position, or A3P, that had had ties to racist and anti-semitic figures. The A3P attempted to be an ultra-nationalist political party that fielded candidates in various elections and ultimately changed its name following the 2012 election.
Gage said his group has been particularly upset about the “whiteness” course being taught in Arizona and recently distributed fliers on ASU’s campus targeting Bebout as being “anti-white.”
“We’re pressing on [the university] because what they’re doing is completely racist and hypocritical,” he said, later adding that, in the spirit of equality, he would expect the school to also offer a “blackness problem” or “Jewishness problem” class.
The National Youth Front said it distributed over 400 fliers branding ASU professor Lee Bebout as “anti-white” around campus (YouTube).
In late January, ASU released a statement appearing to stand behind the course. The statement said the “problem of whiteness” class would “examine how people talk about – or avoid talking about – race in the contemporary United States.” It also defended the course as “designed to empower students to confront the difficult and often thorny issues that surround us today and reach thoughtful conclusions rather than display gut reactions.”
Naturally, Gage’s organization and various white supremacist groups didn’t view the course in the same light.
“We all know people use the race card, and it’s an agenda to beat down the white population of this country,” he told TPM. “We’re an oppressed majority, but we’re becoming a minority, and that’s the concern I have with the future.”
Gage posted a video to YouTube last week urging his followers to write to the president of ASU to complain about the course. He told TPM his group is also exploring the legal implications. He pointed TPM to a 2010 Arizona law that banned ethnic studies classes from public and charter K-12 schools, which is currently being challenged in a federal appeals court.
“If that’s the law, then they’re violating it,” Gage said. “So not only is ASU racist, they’re actually lawbreakers.”
The Phoenix New Times newspaper reported last week that Bebout has been getting “menacing messages via e-mail and phone” since his course rose to national attention.
Bebout declined to comment to TPM on the reported threats. ASU’s press office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the threats reportedly being made against the professor.
The newspaper’s report cited white supremacist and neo-Nazi websites that posted photos of Bebout’s mixed-race family as well as his personal contact information. A page on the National Youth Front’s website also encouraged “those who would like to help in our campaign to write, call or email the school and it’s faculty to let them know that this hate class is unacceptable.” The page lists Bebout’s university email address alongside the phone number for ASU’s hotline.
When asked whether the National Youth Front encouraged people to write letters directly to Bebout, Gage demurred.
“Obviously some people have already tried to speak to this guy. Whatever happened with them I don’t know,” he told TPM.
Asked later whether he or any member of the National Youth Front has made a threat toward Bebout, Gage said “absolutely not.”
“No one in my group has done so,” he told TPM in an email. “We are a non-violent group and everyone knows not to lash out like idiots. This issue has been floating around many pro-white sites, so I would assume, if these threats even exist, that they are coming from those who have an extremist point of view, not us.”
Gage was also upset about a video featuring a PhD student and faculty associate at ASU named Robert Poe, who held an informal “teach-in” event on ASU’s campus earlier this month to respond to criticism of the “problem of whiteness” course.
In a video posted to YouTube by a user named “RacePolitics,” Poe was asked during the teach-in whether he advocated violence against racists. He responded: “I advocate violence against racists who choose to politically mobilize. I think we have decent historical precedent for that.”
In an interview with the Phoenix New Times, Poe pointed to U.S. military intervention against the Nazis during World War II as historical precedent for violence against racists. He also told the newspaper that ASU staff questioned him about the teach-in after receiving complaints about the YouTube video, which made the rounds on white nationalist websites.
Poe did not respond to multiple requests for comment from TPM via email.
Gage explained that he learned from his time in the military to go to the person highest up in the chain of command with concerns. To that end, he decided to direct the National Youth Front’s email campaign at ASU President Michael Crow.
“It’s more effective when the president’s annoyed to death with something and being shown, look, one of your professors is advocating violence against white nationalists or whatever groups want to advocate white interests, which is insane,” he told TPM by phone.
Gage said that he couldn’t be sure whether National Youth Front members attended the teach-in, but he applauded the YouTube user who needled Poe at the event.
“I know there’s a video going around. I’m not sure if our people did it or not,” he told TPM. “It could be for all I know. I hope it is, that’s good.“
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.