University of Nevada, Reno, student, Peter Cvjetanovic, sat in the Matthewson-IGT Knowledge Center on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 19. He gnawed on the back of his hand as his peers passed.
“It’s that racist dude,” said one passerby to another.
In August, Cvjetanovic participated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Protesters included hate groups such as white nationalists, white supremacists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates.
The rally convened to protest the tearing down of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general during the Civil War. The rally soon became violent as an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19.
Cvjetanovic is a local example of the type of people joining white nationalist groups — such as Identity Evropa — whose ideologies and events are becoming more public in recent years.
“[Identitarianism] appealed to me because I saw that being a white American was in a way under threat,” Cvjetanovic said.
Since 2014, the number of hate groups identified in the U.S. grew from 784 to 917, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, alt-right followers identify with a range of different ideologies centered around white identity. Many, including Cvjetanovic, call themselves Identitarians.
Identitarianism is a new ideal to the United States, having been brought from France’s nouvelle-droite. Identity Evropa is a notable organization that holds the values of Identitarianism.
Identitarians reject multiculturalism in any form in support of preserving their ethnic and cultural origins.
“It’s just a reaction against globalism. As the world becomes more global, more interconnected, certain identities are threatened — language, ways of life, religions,” Cvjetanovic said.
Cvjetanovic said that he was going to be a part of the movement to prevent these identities from being erased.
“It’s hard to say those identities even exist. A part of what makes this country special is that those barriers aren’t even supposed to be there,” said Reno resident Phillippe Schroth.
Richard Spencer is a notable Identitarian that has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and the end of “deconstruction” of European culture. He was one of the speakers at the Unite the Right rally. Cvjetanovic attended the rally to hear Spencer speak.
“You don’t have to agree with someone completely to want to hear them speak. You can hear an entire speech and pick out something— one sentence that makes sense, like ‘hey, I can agree with this,’” Cvjetanovic said.
Cvjetanovic flew from Reno to Charlottesville to watch Spencer’s speech — however, the rally turned violent and was declared unlawful by state police before Spencer spoke.
Despite his participation in a white nationalist march, Cvjetanovic doesn’t consider himself a racist.
“All I want is to be able to marry a white woman and live in a white neighborhood without anyone saying ‘Oh, that’s racist,’” Cvjetanovic said.
He adds, “I would never date a Jew.”
According to Dylan Merrick, a UNR graduate student in the university’s sociology program, the rise of hate groups in the United States can largely be attributed to the recession and the white working class’ disenfranchisement.
“The development of these ultra-right-wing groups is contingent upon, more or less, people in the Midwest and Southeast feeling like they have been left out. These are largely rural, lowly educated white people from these areas and they feel left out, and they have these very legitimate grievances,” Merrick said. “The thing is, they’re blaming the wrong group for their problems. And what this has manifested into is a populist rhetoric that is used by people like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump in order to perpetuate white supremacy.”
Omid Panahi, an international student at UNR, disagreed with Merrick’s statement. Panahi is deeply involved in politics, specifically with the political climate of the country.
“These ideas and hate groups have been around as long as people have been around. The difference right now is that these people have actually found a platform to come out about their beliefs and there are no consequences for it,” Panahi said.
The university is keeping an eye on white supremacist involvement on campus. According to UNR President Marc Johnson, the warning signs of white supremacist activity are “these incidents of writing racial slurs on walls, swastikas on walls, or any incidences of verbal abuse.”
Johnson emphasized that such incidents are an act of terrorism.
“That’s why we encourage students to report these incidents to the Equal Opportunity and Title IX office. When we have an increase of incidences we put out a note,” Johnson said.
The campus has seen a rise in the number of these incidents since the beginning of the fall semester. On Friday, Oct. 13, swastikas appeared in the Church Fine Arts graffiti stairwell. The university could not identify the perpetrator or perpetrators of the swastika graffiti due to the lack of cameras in the stairwell.
These swastikas were not the first seen on campus this year.
“It’s a very alarming trend considering I was raised Jewish and am Mexican American,” Merrick said. “There have been multiple swastikas that have appeared in this hall. There are swastikas that appeared two floors up.”
Reports of hate crimes, harassment and other instances should be directed to the Equal Opportunity and Title IX office in room 206 of the Continuing Education building or at (775) 784-1547.
Alyssa Shook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.