The morning after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump, a series of flyers appeared on the Texas State University campus in San Marcos featuring a photo of armed men set against the backdrop of an American flag. “Now that our man Trump is elected,” the flyers read, ”(it’s) time to organize tar and feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this Diversity Garbage.” Students and faculty immediately began imploring university administrators to move quickly to quash what they considered dangerous hate speech spreading across campus. Yet internal communications obtained by the Austin American-Statesman show that administrators struggled to formulate a response — not just to that first propaganda attack, but to waves of similar incidents over the next 13 months.
Between the November 2016 election and December, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups targeted Texas State at least 10 times, more than any other school in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League. At Texas State, which fought to withhold records related to the incidents, emails show officials carefully monitored the impact of rising racial tension on donations, admissions and even the school’s Facebook rating. Yet as administrators tried to walk a careful line of political neutrality and free-speech rights, students and faculty complained they did not act decisively to denounce and fight back against the white supremacist flyers, banners and posters. In a written response to questions, Assistant Vice-President for Communication Sandy Pantlik wrote, “During these incidents, there is a need to inform and reassure our campus community. At the same time, we don’t want to give these hate groups the attention and publicity they seek. It is challenging to strike the appropriate balance.”