On Friday, February 2nd, the Young Democratic Socialist chapter at Colorado State University organized a protest to an event hosted by Turning Point USA, a right-wing organization that has become increasingly active on college campuses in recent years. The protesters also spoke out against the recent rise in neo-nazi fliers posted around campus in recent weeks.
Although there were many heated debates and arguments throughout the plaza, the protest was almost entirely peaceful. There was a small presence of Young Republicans, Proud Boys, and other fascist groups, but they only engaged in argument. Violence did not erupt until a group of neo-nazis with the Traditionalist Workers Party [TWP] arrived towards the end of the event.
At around 9:00 pm, after two hours of peaceful protest, police formed a line blocking the north side of the plaza and, to the confusion of everyone in attendance, declared over loudspeaker that this was an unlawful assembly and that everyone had to disperse or face police action. The protest itself was winding down so there was little reason to announce this.
Immediately after declaring the protest an unlawful assembly, approximately a dozen members of the TWP, appeared on the opposite side of the plaza wearing riot gear masks, and carrying large metal flashlights and a flag with a neo-nazi symbol on it. Earlier in the night, police had combed through the anti-racist protesters and took away canes, flag poles, and harassed a medic for carrying trauma shears, because these items “could be used as weapons.” Police made no clear effort to disarm the TWP, demonstrating a clear double-standard and destroying the illusion of impartiality.
Video taken by Unicorn Riot.
The crowd was then pushed into a confrontation with the neo-nazis. At the front of the crowd various anti-fascists and community members engaged in a heated shouting match with the fascists. Tensions rose, and both sides exchanged swings and feints, but violence was largely avoided. Everyone started to leave campus once the police started blasting their LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) and moving towards the crowd, effectively pinching the protesters between fascists and the cops.
This is when violence broke out. As the crowd confronted the TWP, the fascists attacked members of the crowd with their shields and flashlights. Some protestors were injured, including a member of the Denver Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World and General Defense Committee. This fellow worker sustained injuries to the head that required sutures.
The protesters continued to chase down the neo-nazis until they retreated. But all this begs the question: why did police push protesters in that direction just as TWP showed up armed with shields and poles? Many in the crowd speculate that police were working with the fascists. The fascists likely waited until the protest had the least amount of people before they made their cowardly attack.
Prior to the event, the CSU president, Dr. Tony Frank, released a statement labeling the TWP a “white nationalist” and “nazi” group. While we think this statement was better than many previous universities’ statements, the failure by the president to address the connections between Turning Point USA and more insidious groups like the TWP unfortunately marks the statement as a justification for groups like Turning Point to tacitly promote racist ideas. If these two groups are truly unrelated, if Turning Point truly opposes racism, then why do they consistently harbor safe space for neo-nazi organizing?
After correctly describing TWP as a white nationalist group, President Tony Frank incorrectly “make[s] a firm distinction” between white nationalists and Turning Point USA:
“[Turning Point USA members] have followed all appropriate steps to bring a speaker to campus who has no track record of causing disturbances on college campuses. Nevertheless, the recent appearance of white nationalist rhetoric on campus has been conflated with this speaker and caused concerns about the safety and security of religious groups, people of color, and other targeted populations relative to protesters and counter-protesters that may show up on campus Friday evening. In that regard, we have a security plan in place for the event and surrounding areas, and our priority will be to protect the public safety while also allowing people to exercise their constitutional rights to peaceful protest and assembly.”
This apology from the administration is a terrible justification for allowing Turning Point to organize the event. Turning Point USA as an organization has its main ideological base in racist beliefs that cannot be confused for anything other than white supremacy. The New Yorker has uncovered these attitudes among prominent Turning Point organizers. Crystal Clanton, who served until last summer as the group’s national field director, sent a text message to another Turning Point employee saying, “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.”
Turning Point cannot be distinguished from the American fascist movement which TWP is part of. Turning Point may be less extreme, but similar to how Donald Trump has emboldened more disturbing white supremacists across the nation, Turning Point functions as an entry point for youth on college campuses to explore more extreme and racist ideas. It is likely that Turning Point has direct organizing relationships with members of the Traditionalist Workers’ Party and other fascists. Therefore, the university administration is complicit with not only allowing fascist and white nationalist perspectives to spread on their campus, but also with the TWP attack on protesters.
We condemn the university police tactics, the lazy reporting done by The Coloradoan and 9 News, and the justifications for the event by the university administration. It is absolutely irresponsible to allow these sorts of events, that embolden and spread white supremacist ideas – on campus, or anywhere else. The police made absolutely no effort to prevent violence or intervene once it occurred. It was clear to everyone present where the police stood: on the side of the fascists and neo-nazis. After witnessing sieg heils, assaulting and injuring protesters, and yelling racial slurs towards a person of color, an officer was heard saying, “let me know if you guys need anything” to a fascist supporter after the altercation. This is absolutely reprehensible and the Colorado State University administration should be ashamed for their inaction.
The Denver GDC stands in solidarity with the students organizing against fascism on their campus, the anti-racist communities in Fort Collins, and we will continue to confront the rise of fascism in Colorado.
Edit: an earlier version of this article stated that a police officer said “let me know if you guys need anything” during the attack. This has been corrected; the police officer said this in the parking lot as TWP fascists were leaving.