A recent investigation exposed ties between a Florida professor, Marshall DeRosa, and the white nationalist hate group League of the South. DeRosa currently serves as faculty adviser for his university's chapter of the conservative organization Turning Point USA (TPUSA). In response to student activism in the aftermath of the report, TPUSA and fellow conservative organization, Campus Reform -- both of which have recently gained influence in the conservative media echo chamber -- are defending DeRosa and attempting to whitewash his history.
TPUSA is perhaps best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which its members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs,” but the organization’s stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Campus Reform is a project of The Leadership Institute, a decades-old and Koch-funded nonprofit that trains young conservative activists and policy leaders to sell right-wing ideals through seminars on media, fundraising, communications, and campaigning. TPUSA’s website lists The Leadership Institute as one of its “partners.”
Both TPUSA and Campus Reform have gained prominence in part due to right-wing media’s readiness to offer them a platform. Fox News frequently hosts TPUSA founder and conservative “boy wonder” Charlie Kirk and relies upon Campus Reform’s content (which includes selectively edited videos) to fearmonger about “liberal facism” and the plight of conservative students on college campuses. Other conservative outlets, including Breitbart.com, The Daily Caller, and National Review, have also cited Campus Reform to stir up outrage about American colleges.
In March, a report by the activist group UnKoch My Campus, which highlights the influence Republican megadonors Charles and David Koch have on colleges and universities, revealed a connection between DeRosa, a Koch-affiliated professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and League of the South (LOS), a white nationalist, neo-confederate group. According to both UnKoch My Campus and The Nation, DeRosa was a “faculty member” at the LOS Institute, the “educational arm” of white-nationalist group League of the South (LOS), from 2000 until at least 2009.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described LOS as a neo-Confederate hate group dedicated to a second Southern secession and “a society dominated by ‘European Americans.’” Group members participated in the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, and one LOS member has since been charged with viciously beating a black man during the rally.
DeRosa’s association with LOS isn’t the only damning information to come to light in recent months. After the UnKoch My Campus report was released, students discovered two extremist and bigoted essays that DeRosa had penned on the website of the conservative Abbeville Institute, which was created by the founder of the LOS Institute. In one essay, DeRosa claimed that “linking … slavery with white supremacy is a gross over-simplification” and that, in fact, “black supremacy is the origin of Southern slavery.” In another, DeRosa repeatedly misgendered Olympic gold medalist and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner, asserted that Jenner will “never be a woman,” and called her “somewhat repulsive from a Christian perspective.”
Since DeRosa’s ideological leanings and former ties to LOS came to light, students at Florida Atlantic University have been protesting his position at the school. Regardless of clear evidence of DeRosa’s unsavory associations and extremist views, however, TPUSA and Campus Reform have defended him throughout the controversy, and attempted to explain away his racist past. The professor himself has attempted to downplay his relationship with the neo-Confederate group. He told The Nation that he “disengaged early on” after he “got an inkling as to some of the characters involved.” But, as experts on LOS told The Nation, it’s unlikely that DeRosa could have spent nine years within the group without recognizing the racist beliefs at the organization’s core. According to SPLC's Heidi Beirich “LOS was different when DeRosa was involved, not as militant, but it still had very, very bad racial views.” She added that DeRosa “can’t scurry away from the fact that for a long time he was a member of a group that had white-supremacist views.”
Despite this, TPUSA chapter President Morgan Sachs told Campus Reform that the group supports its adviser and added that she is proud of DeRosa for “refusing to back down” in the face of “these false allegations.” University Press wrote that Sachs claimed “she’s used to antagonistic left-wing groups targeting” her organization and that as soon as she saw the posters decrying DeRosa, she covered them with TPUSA “socialism sucks” stickers.
Campus Reform has run two articles on its website defending DeRosa as a “conservative” and condemning the students protesting his position at the university. The first article, posted March 29, was titled “Flyers defame conservative prof as a 'white supremacist'” and argued that students were smearing DeRosa “over his connection to conservative organizations.” The second post, from April 10, was titled “Students crash faculty meeting to attack conservative prof,” called the protests against DeRosa a “crusade,” and defended the professor, claiming he “has explained that while he was once a faculty member with the League of the South, he cut ties with the group long ago once it began to become more extreme.”
As the TPUSA and Campus Reform grow more prominent thanks to the platform given to them by right-wing media, the risk only increases of the racist ideologies they excuse and enable being popularized as well.