Stop White Nationalists UTK: Sign on to the student demands for Chancellor Davenport

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Dear Chancellor Davenport,

We approach you as concerned Volunteers, and, as you said in your statement just last week, guardians of this campus. It has been brought to our collective attention that the Traditionalist Worker Party will be bringing Matthew Heimbach to our campus this month under guise of a shell charity, WALNUT. Heimbach is considered by the Southern Poverty Law Center the spokesperson of TWP (a listed hate group) and its affiliated entities, and is named by the SPLC as a neo-Nazi, white nationalist, and domestic terrorist.

His views go beyond the racial segregation, prejudice, bigotry, and white supremacist rhetoric tarnishing our Rock that you named in your statement. Whereas white supremacists believe white people to be the superior race, the ideology of white nationalism relies on the creation of a white ethno-state, calling for the expulsion of all those deemed racially “other”. Heimbach’s message incites violence against people of color, LGBTQ+ populations, and religious minorities for the sake of “securing the existence of our people and a future for white children” (Heimbach). A pattern of brutality and violence follows Matthew Heimbach wherever he goes. Heimbach and other Nazis attacked and beat an interracial couple at a restaurant in Murfreesboro in October, an incident that was captured on video. Heimbach was a central instigator of the Nazi rallies in Charlottesville that resulted in the brutal murder of Heather Heyer and additional physical attacks on many protesters, especially people of color.

Since Heimbach has previously been associated with violence, his presence on campus would make him a threat to “the "health, safety, and welfare of persons affiliated with the University" as outlined in the University Code. This code also prohibits speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Heimbach’s messages incite such lawless action and hatred.

We respect and appreciate the stands you have taken in the face of opposition since your appointment as Chancellor last year, including your decision against outsourcing and your vocal support of SEAT (Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee) and other queer populations/organizations. We ask you now to extend the same support to students of color and religious minorities on campus. As members of intersecting marginalized populations, we reach out to you to say that we feel vulnerable. We feel targeted. We don’t feel safe. Your undergraduate students, graduate students, student groups, campus collectives, faculty members, administrators, and Knoxville community members come to you now to outline our concerns for the safety of marginalized populations on our campus.

These are our demands for you as our Chancellor and your administration:

1. We demand that Matthew Heimbach be denied access to the University of Tennessee’s campus, buildings, and facilities. This includes marked “Free Speech zones,” as his message promotes hate speech and violence, directly putting marginalized student populations at risk physically, emotionally, and mentally. Matthew Heimbach’s campus appearance on February 17th, or any date, shall be denied. His presence shall receive no support from UT administration in any form.

2. We demand that you, Chancellor Davenport, release a statement condemning Matthew Heimbach and other white nationalist groups, as well as alerting the student body of his barring. This statement should effectively distinguish hate speech from free speech. Free speech must not protect violent and harmful speech that puts marginalized students at risk or promote white nationalism and genocide.

3. We demand reoccurring administrative statements of condemnation for white supremacist and white nationalist groups that paint hate speech on The Rock at each occurrence

- Administrative action protecting The Rock and taking action against those that defile it with hate speech.
- The work of painting over neo-Nazi and racist messages on The Rock should not continually fall on the shoulders of marginalized students -- or any student -- and should not be tolerated in the first place.

4. We demand that any speaker affiliated with known white nationalist organizations be barred from campus now and in the future.

Should Matthew Heimbach be allowed to make an appearance on this campus, the administration will be willfully putting lives in danger. This is not a matter of free speech. This is a matter of being able to stop violence before it ensues. Neo-nazis and racist organizations have no place in our Volunteer community. The hateful, racist, and homophobic messages spread at this event would directly contradict the “just, welcoming, and safe campus” you seek to provide and maintain.

We care for our campus and our fellow Vols, and this is why we are writing to you. We see the harm and hurt this appearance will certainly cause for our campus community. You have a responsibility as our Chancellor to take action.

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