NEWS: In late November 2015 a number of news outlets reported what appeared to be an influx of “white student union” pages on Facebook, many of which were associated with large institutions:

Among the universities purportedly hosting such organizations were the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois, UCLA, and New York University:

On 21 November 2015, USA Today published an article titled “‘Illini White Student Union’ challenges ‘Black Lives Matter,'” which approached the claim without questioning whether the group existed in the first place:

An anonymous Facebook page called Illini White Student Union, created after black students from the University of Illinois held a rally Wednesday, reportedly characterized the Black Lives Matter movement as an act of “terrorism” and called for the monitoring of African-American students who attended, leaving many feeling unsafe at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The Facebook page read, “A new page for white students of University of Illinois students to be able to form a community and discuss our own issues as well as be able to organize against the terrorism we have been facing from Black Lives Matter activists on campus,” according to The Daily Illini.

A 23 November 2015 KMOX article titled “Report: ‘White Student Union’ Pages Appearing On Facebook” maintained the pages (which began appearing concurrently) featured some suspicious similarities:

It is also unclear if these groups plan to become actual student organizations on campus. A North Carolina university page promises to hold “group meetings, info sessions, rallies, and protests on the UNC campus.”

The different pages also appear to be linked with each other: they like each other’s pages and posts, and share links and comments.

Whether or not the pages are legitimate, students and administrators are taking them seriously.

A 24 November 2015 Washington Post article (titled “More than 30 purported ‘White Student Unions’ pop up across the country”) made some of the same observations, suggesting an astroturfing campaign was likely responsible for the sudden popularity of purported white student unions:

At around the same time, similar pages emerged in connection with other colleges in the U.S. and Canada — at the University of California Berkeley, Swarthmore College, the University of Missouri and the University of British Columbia. As of Tuesday morning, there are roughly 30 Facebook pages purporting to represent some form of a “White Students Union,” all of which were created within the past few days, according to a user on Medium who referred to an online spreadsheet of the pages.

Several of the pages feature the same statement of purpose, beginning with a welcome to “students of European descent (and allies)” and concluding with a “vision” of a future in which “every ethnic group has the right to organize and represent themselves and their interests.”

On 22 November 2015, an anonymous Medium user claimed neo-nazi web site The Daily Stormer was at least partly responsible for the scope of the hoax:

On November 21, Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer, a news site described by The New York Times as “a neo-Nazi mixture of message boards and sarcastic commentary,” published a blog post criticizing the reaction of the UIUC administration. At the bottom, Anglin encourages his readers to create more “White Student Unions” that only exist through social media:

daily stormer white student union

The Medium post included evidence some of the Facebook pages featured core content identical to one another, in turn indicating the pages weren’t the work of multiple groups of real students on campuses:

white student union hoax

As the user claimed, The Daily Stormer published a 21 November 2015 post titled “Illinois: White Student Union Formed Against BLM Denounced as Offensive, Hateful.” That post indeed concluded with the following directive:

So, guys. Here’s the plan:

Make more of these White Student Union pages on Facebook for various universities. You don’t have to go there. Make one for Dartmouth, Princeton, etc.

Go, do it now. If they won’t let it on Facebook, put it on tumblr or wordpress or whatever. Get it up, then forward links to the local media.

Just fill it up with pro-White memes and “we’ve had enough of these people” rhetoric.

Extra points if you actually go to the school.

On 24 November 2015 Anglin published a Daily Stormer post titled “White Student Unions Rise Across America,” three days after his published incitement to fellow white supremacists to fabricate such pages (whether or not they attended the schools for which pages were created). Anglin addressed criticisms that the movement was neither organic nor widely embraced, writing:

Idiot Hoax Claims

Jewish liars are claiming that I invented all of these organizations as a hoax, as if I am some type of Bond villain.

The article went on to provide a list of schools that “now have white student unions,” despite a lack of evidence that even one of those schools maintained any such group before the Facebook hoax circulated (or after it):

UCLA, Stanford, UC Davis, Princeton, University of Missouri, UC Berkeley, California State University at Fullerton, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Penn State University, Florida International University, Ohio State University, University of North Carolina, University of Texas at Austin, UC Santa Barbara, University of Minnesota, Occidental College, LSU, Michigan State University, Washington State University, University of Central Florida, North Carolina State University, University of Cincinnati, University of Montana, Loyola University at Chicago, Rutgers, NYU, Portland State University, University of Illinois, University of British Columbia, University of Western Ontario.

Anglin, who encouraged the formation of fake groups on 21 November 2015, was suddenly confident that 72 hours was sufficient time for white student unions to spring into action and conduct meetings. He was reluctant to provide any information that could be substantiated independently, however:

While it is true that I have always encouraged people to become active in the real world, I am not organizing these groups. I am in contact with some of the people organizing them, and to my understanding, they are all students on the campuses where they are organizing.

I won’t say which ones, but several of the groups are preparing to hold meetings in real life on campus. One group already held a meeting at a local Chipotle. I have encouraged organizers to arrange to meet privately at least once or twice at a pizza joint or what have you, where they won’t be subjected to Black terrorism. Daring to organize and protect themselves from these brutal Blacks, they are certain to be harassed and likely to be physically attacked, so it is better if they know and feel comfortable around each other before they put themselves in that situation.

A 23 November 2015 Daily Beast article titled “Racist Trolls Are Behind NYU’s ‘White Student Union’ Hoax” claimed 8chan users advanced the hoax, but the cited thread from that forum became inaccessible:

These White Student Union accounts are fake—or at least, the on-campus clubs they claim to represent are. Racist trolls from message boards 4chan and 8chan, and the white supremacist website Daily Stormer, fabricated the Facebook pages in an attempt to create racial tension on college campuses.

“You can make a burner gmail by using a burner app and then it’s easy to create a burner facebook,” one 8chan user wrote. This [forum] is far from unified, but subscribes to a loose collection of far-right ideologies: a rejection of “political correctness,” a yearning for religious and political authoritarianism, a return to medieval gender roles, and the open practice of white supremacy.

“Soon their group-enforced cognitive dissonance will become loud enough that even they will not be able to keep ignoring it, and it will destroy each one of them individually when they will begin to ask the impossible-to-ignore questions,” an 8chan user wrote. “they will be ostracised [sic] and called rac/sex/misogyn/able/*/ ~ist, and the whole mass will enter decoherence and then they will be receptive to any amount of redpill, up to overdosing on it.”

Gawker post (also published on 23 November 2015, titled “Who’s Behind the Fake “Union of White NYU Students?”) detailed numerous unsuccessful attempts made by the site to verify the basics of the story, including whether or not one such “union” leader actually existed:

Eventually, the anonymous writer explained, in part, their anxiety about meeting in person, worrying that it might be “a set-up” … I suggested that meeting in person, or at least offering proof of their identity off the record, might lend their message the authority of having been vetted by an impartial, journalistic third party, so that people might begin to address the substance of what they are trying to say. “The accusations don’t bother me,” they wrote. “They prove my point.”

Asked why they wouldn’t want people to consider their argument on its merits, the person behind the page did not reply.

Despite Anglin’s assertions and widespread interest in whether white student unions abruptly swept the collegiate nation, not a shred of evidence emerged to suggest that any actual groups matching that description existed outside a short-lived Facebook-based hoax. No more than a few individuals claimed (without proof) to front or participate in white student unions, no photos surfaced of purported meetings, and no information directly linking students attending the affected schools to the supposed movement appeared. While it remained possible dozens of universities suddenly acquired white student unions overnight, the far likelier explanation involved astroturfing on the part of a small number of white supremacists active on social media.