BSC students voice displeasure with demonstrators comparing Obama to Hitler
Demonstrators holding posters comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler have been frequenting the Bridgewater State College campus, a BSC student told selectmen.
“I completely understand freedom of speech, but that’s hate speech,” BSC senior Noube Rateau said.
The demonstrators are apparently supporters of controversial politician Lyndon Larouche. Rateau said a magazine the demonstrators were passing out was Larouche literature.
Rateau said the demonstrators have showed up every Tuesday for the past few weeks handing out fliers and carrying large posters showing Barack Obama with an Adolf Hitler mustache.
In past weeks, there were two demonstrators, but at their appearance on Oct. 27, there were four demonstrators, two women and two men, all of them white and in their mid to late 20s, he said.
Rateau, who is African-American, said the demonstrators refused to identify themselves to him but did tell him they are not students and are not in any way affiliated with Bridgewater State College.
“If it was George Bush, I would have been here, too. It has nothing to do with party or race,” Rateau told selectmen.
He asked selectmen if there was anything that could be done to have them removed from campus.
“When I first saw them I felt angry, but then I said to myself, 'I’m going to handle this professionally,'” he said.
He said the demonstrators have been standing on the sidewalk in front of the Rondileau Campus Center, which is located on Park Avenue, and in front of Boyden Hall, which is on Summer Street.
Bridgewater State College spokesperson Eva Gaffney said she has also received reports of the demonstrators standing on the mall area between the campus center and the library.
The college has a free speech and demonstration policy that states, “Members of the college community and all groups or individuals coming on campus for the specific purpose of speaking or demonstrating must be sponsored by a college-recognized organization, group or department.”
Gaffney said the demonstrators appear to be in violation of the policy when they are on college property. When they are on sidewalks of public streets, however, even ones that run through the campus, the college has no jurisdiction, Gaffney said.
She said college officials have chosen not to enforce the policy in this case because the demonstrators have been peaceable and non-disruptive of traffic. They have been asked to move on at least one occasion when they were on the steps and lawn of the campus center, which could potentially have impeded the flow of pedestrians, she said.
“The college has chosen to err heavily on the side of free speech,” Gaffney said.
“We are a public campus, not a walled-in campus or a private campus,” she said.
But Rateau said he’s concerned the situation will eventually disrupt in violence. He said many African-American students are deeply offended by the demonstrations.
On one occasion some of his friends staged a counter-protest adjacent to the demonstrators, but the atmosphere became contentious, he said.
“There’s going to be someone in the school who has a bad day and decides to do something about it. It’s like a volcano,” Rateau said.
There have already been “a few intense arguments” between students other than himself and the demonstrators, Rateau said.
Similar recent demonstrations in other communities have been linked to the Lyndon Larouche Political Action Committee, which promotes a campaign on its Web site called “Stop Obama’s Nazi Health Plan” and offers a downloadable version of a poster showing Obama with a Hitler mustache, as well as downloadable pamphlets.
The campaign by the controversial political group got a lot of publicity when a follower carrying one of the posters asked U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., at a town hall meeting on health care reform, “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy?”
Frank famously replied, “When you ask me that question, I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?”
He also said to her: “It is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated.”
Rateau said he’s angry but determined to handle his anger constructively.
“I love the campus. It’s like someone intruding on my home,” Rateau said.
He said he challenged the demonstrators to a debate, but they would not give him their contact information.
So Rateau, who makes documentaries, has another idea if having them removed from the campus is not an option.
“I’m going to do a documentary on health care,” he said.