On March 22, The Phoenix New Times published a series of private Facebook messages from members of Arizona State University’s College Republicans United (CRU), a student group founded in January 2018 after splitting off from the larger student Republican group, ASU College Republicans. The CRU messages contained anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic sentiments and have generated controversy and outrage on campus.
On Monday, CRU, which is funded by the university, issued a public apology at a meeting on ASU’s Tempe campus.
“Moving forward, under my presidency, we will condemn to the highest degree any behavior involving racism, anti-Semitism, any level of discrimination to any group whatsoever, we will condemn it,” said the new president of the organization, Matthew Northway, who assumed his position after CRU’s prior president, Joshua Bernard, resigned last week.
The meeting was attended by dozens of protesters.
Group founder Rick Thomas spoke at the meeting and apologized for messages and tweets of his own. He said that the rhetoric in those messages was much different from the group’s public image. “Sometimes it was silly, sometimes it was inappropriate ... and I’m sure they’ve offended some of you, all of you should be offended by it.”
In the messages, Thomas supported a eugenics policy for the mentally handicapped; referred to the African American musician Childish Gambino as “degenerate monkey filth”; and referenced an Alex Jones-fueled conspiracy theory that Jews are puppet masters controlling the world.
Prominent civil rights activist and Southern Baptist minister Rev. Jarret Barton Maupin attempted to serve as a mediator of sorts between CRU representatives and the protestors. Charles Loftus, the group’s faculty advisor, was grateful for the clergyman’s presence.
Northway, a pre-medical student, said that from now on all meetings would be recorded and that CRU would be enforcing its internal constitution more rigorously. On March 28, the CRU executive staff expelled one of its members for “hiding his true feelings from CRU.”
Speaking to the Jewish News, Northway said that “everyone had a sense of dignity from God that everyone must honor.”
CRU has been under fire for their campus speakers, as well. On March 19, the group invited right-wing YouTube personality Ashton Blaise Whitty to speak at a CRU event. Her boyfriend, who came with her, is Tim Gionet, the alt-right YouTube personality known as Baked Alaska, who was a scheduled speaker at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, when participants infamously chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
Members of the CRU have appeared to express support for that rally, which resulted in the death of attendee Heather Heyer. The Phoenix New Times published two photos, one of Thomas and one of CRU member Cody Friedland, holding tiki torches, a gallon of milk and standing next to a Dodge Challenger. (Charlottesville protesters carried tiki torches and milk has become a white supremacist symbol. Heyer was killed by a Dodge Challenger.)
Loftus, a criminology professor and former police officer, told the Jewish News he was disappointed in the CRU members who wrote the messages.
“We have a very diverse group full of black students, female students, Asian students and Hispanic so I believe that what was written in these private messages doesn’t reflect the group as a whole,” Loftus said. “There have also been Jewish members of this group.” He may have been referring to Friedland, who he cited for the New Times as a Jewish member. (Friedland did not reply to a request for comment.)
Now, Loftus is focusing on retooling the group’s message. During his career as a Phoenix police officer, he worked with the ADL and spent several summers in Israel for counterterrorism training. He said that if CRU as a whole was hate-filled and anti-Semitic, he would do everything in his power to shut the group down.
Northway, for his part, hopes the group will overcome the rhetoric of its former members and move forward as a more respectable entity. “Those comments were reprehensible and are not who we are,” he said, “and not who we will be.” JN