At a time when the limits of free speech is being tested on American campuses, the University of Oregon presents an interesting case study. A retired professor and leader of a tiny group with a history of promoting anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and racist ideas has sparked a movement to have it banned from this historically liberal university. The group. Pacifica Forum, has long been monitored by Hillel and once hosted a talk by convicted Holocaust denier David Irving.
On the one hand, the group’s ideas, however loathsome, are supposed to get an airing, right? And yet, in the wake of a December incident in which the Nazi salute was performed at one of the group’s meetings, some are saying Pacifica is a hate group that has turned the campus into a hostile environment.
Since the Hitler salute at a Pacifica presentation in December, scores of protesters — some silent, some not — have attended meetings once largely ignored. Mercedes White Calf, a junior, said she initially thought Pacifica should remain on campus as a free speech issue. She now believes the hostility is creating a dangerous situation and the group must go.
The tension escalated last week when someone spray-painted a 4-foot-by-4-foot swastika in the office of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Queer Alliance. Though no Pacifica members are suspected, one of its January lectures focused on the symbolism of the swastika.
April-Kay Williams said the vandalism prompted her decision to leave the university. "It may be common to you but I’ve never experienced hate like this before," Williams said in an e-mail. She added: "I do not want to be on a campus where the president talks about diversity and inclusiveness but still allows a hate group on campus."
Roughly 100 students rallied Friday before Pacifica’s most recent gathering. Holding signs such as "Pacifica Forum Nazi Dupes," and "Smash Fascism," the students urged the group to leave campus — voluntarily or by university edict.
The students marched to the edge of campus, where Valdas Anelauskas, a Lithuanian immigrant and racial separatist, lectured for more than hour, partly on the role of Jews in the Bolshevik Revolution. Protesters regularly challenged him.
"Filtered and twisted facts," shouted Joseph Newton, 51, of Eugene.