Alt-right rhetoric comes to fore

UI political student leaders say it’s society’s job to curtail hate speech, not the government’s.


EPI Graphic of Patrick Wronkiewcz, Rose Fiala, and Emiliano Martinez (David Calderon/The Daily Iowan)

As “alt-right” rhetoric crops up nationwide, University of Iowa students reflect on the role of free speech in society.

UI senior Rose Fiala, a co-chair of the Iowa City Democratic Socialists of America, said she understands why people may be inclined to look toward codes prohibiting hate speech as a way to shut down the so-called alt-right’s white nationalist and white supremacist rhetoric, but it’s too easy for the state to begin using them against the people.

UI senior Emiliano Martinez, a University of Iowa Student Government Latinx Constituency Student senator, said once officials at any level start legislating the ability of people to gather and speak, they start infringing on their right to free speech.

Everyone has the right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to agree, Martinez said.

UI senior Kyler Lang, said a democratic government should reflect society’s values and reject alt-right ideas.

“The idea that that could be a form of free speech in any way is absurd to me,” Lang said.

But any legislation regarding hate speech would, Lang said, need to be very specific about the messages and ideas prohibited to avoid infringing on other kinds of speech.

Patrick Wronkiewicz, chair of the University of Iowa College Republicans, said people can protest if they want to, but there are social ramifications for doing so.

“If you put yourself out there publicly, there’s a right for anyone to have any perception they want of you,” he said. “The government’s the only one that’s restricted from restricting free speech, so if I go and say something inflammatory, I could still get fired.”

Fiala said she doesn’t think members of the alt-right are technically Republicans, but only because the GOP isn’t radical enough for them.

“I think [the alt-right is] absolutely conservative,” she said. “I think it’s important to recognize that the people out there and the history of the GOP ultimately have many if not most of the same political goals in mind.”

Fiala said the alt-right and the GOP are ultimately working for the same goals. The difference, she said, is that the GOP’s tactics are quieter.

“If you’re the kind of … person who wakes up in the morning and makes it your goal to kick all the black people out of town, it doesn’t really matter if you’re trying to physically rip them out of their homes or just do it through a decade or two of redlining,” Fiala said. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to get to the same place.”

Gina Jochimsen, a UI senior majoring in journalism and political science and self-identified conservative, said the alt-right are clearly not conservatives.

“You’re not conservative if you’re going to identify with a hate group and try to align yourself with people that do not share our values and do not represent what we represent,” Jochimsen said. “Of course if the neo-Nazis or the alt-right are going to align with the GOP, the GOP obviously has to come out and say by no means do we support this or condone this.”

Jochimsen is a former DI staff writer.

RELATED: It’s not just about statues after Charlottesville

Wronkiewicz said he defines the alt-right as people who advocate for an all-white ethno-state or a separation of the races under the belief of white supremacy. He said he hasn’t seen any evidence of alt-right ideas within the Republican community at the UI.

“I spend my time with a lot of different Republicans … and honestly I haven’t seen any alt-right wings or ideologies or things of that nature,” he said.

Wronkiewicz said it bothers him when people generalize alt-right ideas to all conservatives.

“It happens a lot on campus,” Wronkiewicz said. “You hear stories of [UI College Republicans] having a sticker on their laptop and people coming up and accusing them of being racist and of agreeing with the alt-right ideology. It’s kind of irritating.”

Wronkiewicz said people who conflate alt-right ideology with Republican beliefs need to understand that there are huge ideological differences.

“You have to look at people’s motivations on why they’re Republican. People automatically think that we’re Republican — some people on the left — because we’re all racists and we all have racist beliefs, but our motivations for voting and how we see the issues are different from them,” Wronkiewicz said.

Fiala said she thinks the alt-right may be small but is still dangerous. For that reason, she said they require a serious response.

“We have this image of anti-fascist action in our heads as open street conflict … [but what] a lot of it’s going to look like is sitting around a plastic conference table,” she said.

Wronkiewicz said it’s OK if political figures get involved to make sure everyone is safe, but that beyond that, it should be society’s job, not the government’s, to respond to the alt-right.

Martinez said it’s important for communities to discuss what they won’t stand for, and it’s also their job to reject harmful people and ideas in a responsible, respectful way.

“In the marketplace of ideas, the most important thing to do is just reject the product,” Martinez said. “We can all pretty much agree that the guy who talks about a white ethno-state is not representative of any community and doesn’t really have a place in representing us.”

UI junior James Kay said the government also has a responsibility to promote critical thinking and civic engagement within schools.

“It’s a privilege to be outspoken about these issues and we don’t take advantage of that,” Kay said. “It’s definitely our role as citizens to be educated on these subjects and to put action to our beliefs.”

Maya Bautista, a UI junior and psychology and journalism major from Romeoville, Illinois, said people have a personal responsibility to maintain an open discourse with members of the alt-right.

“I think it’s a good idea to bounce opinions off of each other,” she said. “This is also kind of a generalization, but I feel like the alt-right closes off if someone has an opinion that’s different from their own, especially if it’s a really big topic like racism.”

Martinez said he thinks calling out hateful rhetoric makes people reflect, rather than retreat further within their ideologies.

“We’re not being disrespectful; we’re not swearing at them,” Martinez said. “We’re just talking about … you can’t be serious about what if we just had a white ethno-state.”

Jochimsen said the best way to combat hate speech is to challenge it with more speech.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” she said.

Facebook Comments