Youth for Western Civilization, which has chapters at only about 10 U.S. campuses, is just one of hundreds of conservative student organizations around the nation, far smaller than better-known college-based groups like Young Americans for Freedom and College Republicans.
But its influence is bigger than its size, drawing the attention of large numbers of admirers–and critics–since it began organizing three years ago. Thanks to its discipline in advocating a small number of simply stated positions and a new-media-savvy communications strategy, YWC may be radically refreshing the template for political organizing in American higher education.
Preserving the ‘high culture of Europe’
YWC’s president, Kevin DeAnna, 28, a graduate student in political science at American University in Washington, vigorously denies that his organization is discriminatory in any way. He said characterizations of the groups at the Cologne rally as “suspected of extremist activities” had “a faint Orwellian ring that makes me fear the German government far more.”
“I am glad we have some contacts with European groups,” he said in an email interview. “. . . One of the absolutely critical things that separates us from any other conservative groups is that we consider what happens in Europe (and other Western nations such as Canada and Australia) to be just as important as what happens in America.”
[YWC] has honed a strategy of provoking debate over three carefully cultivated but politically potent issues: illegal immigration, multiculturalism and preservation of America’s European cultural heritage.
In doing so, it has provoked sometimes-heated debate:
The group first came to widespread attention two years ago, when it tried to host a speech at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill by former Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who ran for president in 2008 on a platform that advocated overhauling U.S. immigration policy. Protesters, some of them shouting that Tancredo was a racist, blocked the speech; during the protest, a window was shattered and police used pepper spray to restore order.
Events like those–and the group’s first national conference, scheduled next month in Washington–are designed to attract attention to YWC’s defense of “Western culture,” which it defines as “the social norms, values, practices, and high culture of Europe and those places settled predominantly by the peoples from that area.”
Liberal groups like the SPLC contend that language like that is white nationalist code–rhetoric calibrated to sound non-controversial to potential mainstream conservative donors while sending a message of solidarity to right-wing extremists.
Contrary to some media reports–and there have been many, because the group is very good at attracting media attention–the SPLC has not listed YWC in its compendium of “hate groups.” But Beirich said her organization does consider YWC to be “the most far-right college group” in America, “much more to the right than any other college conservative organization.”
While acknowledging that YWC “focuses on the issues of racial preferences (and) extreme multiculturalism,” he rejected the idea that the group is racist. The group’s website says students who share its beliefs are welcome to join without regard to race, religion or national origin. While some authors on the site complain about “privileges” afforded to illegal and even legal immigrants, others take pains to say they support equal rights for legal immigrants “who play by the rules.”
DeAnna also denies that he once wrote hard-right articles for a website published by the Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, which the SPLC listed as a hate group at the time.
The alleged articles are not on the Web, and while several groups critical of YWC have published what they say are copies from since-deleted archives, msnbc.com could not independently verify that they were authentic.