MSU Student Group Likely to get 'Hate Group' Status · 13 December 2006

By Todd Heywood

Lansing City Pulse  

Editor's Note: as the following article describes, the Southern Poverty Law Center has singled out the Michigan State chapter of Young American's for Freedom (YAF) as a probable "hate group." The supposed reason for this designation? YAF invited Congressman Tom Tancredo to speak on campus and held protests of homosexuality and illegal immigration. For these apparent 'hate crimes' the group is now being handed the same designation as Neo-Nazis and the KKK. YAF leader Kyle Bristow reports that students trying to organize a YAF chapter at nearby Olivet College are facing resistance from the campus administration because of the Southern Poverty Law Center's ridiculous label.

A controversial student group at MSU will “probably” be listed as a hate group, according to a national organization that tracks such groups.

Young Americans for Freedom, a student group that receives money from the university, qualifies as a “hate group,” said Heidi Beirich, assistant director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

If YAF is listed, it will be the first university-recognized hate group in the nation, Beirich said.

YAF has been involved in a series of minority bashing events this fall, most notably its attempt to organize a campus-wide “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day.”

And on Nov. 20, about a dozen members came to downtown Lansing to protest the Lansing City Council’s proposed civil rights ordinance, which would protect gays, lesbians and transgender persons from discrimination. Outside of City Hall, protesters held up signs with slogans like “Straight Power” and “End Faggotry.”

YAF member Joanna Varnavas, 23, laughed when told her group was being investigated by the SPLC. “We’ll see,” she said.

YAF’s local branch has about 30 active members, with a mailing list of between 100 and 150 people, Varnavas said. She said the members meet regularly at the MSU Union. Varnavas said the group is affiliated with the National Young Americans for Freedom organization, which was founded in 1960 by National Review founder William F. Buckley.

The MSU chapter is led by Kyle Bristow, 20, an international relations sophomore who made national news over the weekend after a campus event featuring U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.

YAF co-hosted a speech Thursday at MSU’s law building by Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is among Congress’ leading advocates for building a wall along the Mexico border and making English the United States’ official language.

Before Tancredo could enter the building, about 25 protesters from the Coalition for Equal Opportunity stormed the lecture hall, shouting claims of racism against the congressman.

Following the incident, Bristow made the rounds on national television, including Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” claiming he was kicked and spit on by angry protesters.

Groups listed on the SPLC’s monitoring list are there because of their ideology, not necessarily because of violence, Beirich said. SPLC’s list includes such organizations as Christian Identity churches, neo-Nazi organizations, Ku Klux Klan groups, the Nation of Islam, and Black Panther organizations.

The list includes 25 extremist organizations and hate groups in Michigan.

Varnavas says the SPLC list “infringes on the law,” but the vice president of the ACLU’s Lansing branch disagreed.

“There is nothing wrong with making a list,” Henry Silverman said. “They are hate groups. There is nothing wrong with calling them what they are.”

As a recognized student organization, YAF is eligible for funding through the Associated Students of Michigan State University, the undergraduate student government. ASMSU levies a $16.75 tax on every student that enrolls at MSU, which is then used to fund student groups and bring in speakers.

Registered student groups are also eligible for accounts with the university and discounts on food and others services provided by MSU.

Fred Watson, director of student life at MSU, said he has not been contacted by the SPLC about Young Americans for Freedom. “They haven’t told me about that, so I am not concerned,” Watson said.

Paulette Granberry Russell, special adviser to MSU President Lou Anna Simon for minority issues and director of affirmative action at MSU, said she too was not aware of any investigation. She declined further comment.

Beirich said the lack of response from MSU administrators is “ridiculous.”

“You should be concerned,” she said. Over the weekend, Varnavas resigned as spokeswoman for MSU’s YAF chapter. She said she would remain a “passive” member.

Varnavas said she made the decision following media interviews as well as discussions with her “liberal friends.”

“I think it was more of speaking with people and hearing their stories and seeing the full brunt of what my actions were doing,” she said. “I was in the dark. I had not taken it as seriously as I should have.”

“I didn’t like the way we were labeling people,” Varnavas said. “I didn’t like the hate speech. I just didn’t say anything before.”