Alex Chapman told a crowd of more than 200 people Wednesday afternoon that the calls to remove a self-described white nationalist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ignored a wider problem in the U.S.
Kicking out Daniel Kleve, who in a Google Hangout described himself as “the most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area,” would be short-sighted, Chapman added.
“If Dan Kleve gets expelled, there’s always going to be another Dan Kleve,” the sophomore from Rapid City, South Dakota, said. “There’s thousands of them. I’m not concerned with him. I’m concerned with the whole ideology he represents.”
Speaking before a rally hastily organized by a group called UNL Against Hate, Chapman spoke off-the-cuff to implore his peers to look inward and examine how they could each improve the community by making all feel safe and welcome on campus.
“At the end of the day, it’s you, it’s me, it’s everybody here’s job to ensure we can be proud of our university,” he said. “I think the way we can do that is not to retaliate with hate, not to retaliate with violence, but with love and understanding.”
Rally organizers moved quickly to draw attention to Kleve after a video created by Anti-Fascist Action Nebraska recounted the 23-year-old’s involvement with white supremacist groups in the last year, including a violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead.
The video in question, widely circulated among UNL students earlier this week, depicted Kleve talking aloud about wanting to commit a violent act: “Trust me, I want to be violent. Trust me. Really violent.”
UNL officials acknowledged the demands to remove Kleve from campus in a statement Tuesday afternoon, adding “safety officials have been aware and are taking the matter very seriously.”
“Rest assured the safety of our students, faculty and staff is of utmost importance to us,” the statement read.
For his part, Kleve said in another video Tuesday night his comments were edited to misconstrue his message. Instead of calling for violence, he said he was trying to convince “skinheads” to refrain from inflicting violence on others.
The distinction didn't make an impact on the crowd Wednesday, some whom shouted for UNL to expel Kleve, a junior biochemistry major from Norfolk. Others held signs accusing UNL of inaction in dealing with a white nationalist.
Senior Jordan Ndam, a senior business administration major, asked the rally to stand in solidarity with one another against those who perpetuate racist ideologies.
Ndam said he believes in the value of free speech, but offered the example that he could not yell "bomb" at an airport or make a threat toward another person.
“This isn’t an airport, but this is a public place, this is an institution paid for by government taxpayer dollars,” he said. “People pay to be here and they shouldn’t feel threatened or uneasy because they are not white or whatever.
“Sometimes I feel like we have come a long way, but we have a long ways to go,” Ndam added.
Growing up in a “bubble of hatred” until he arrived at UNL, Alex Wagar — who is gay, transgender and Jewish — told rally-goers that they have the power to point the dialogue stirred up by Kleve in a new direction.
“Change starts here, but the momentum has to continue, it has to keep building, it has to become more and more powerful day after day after day,” he said.
After finishing his speech in front of the crowd, Chapman said he wanted to channel the anger and fear resulting from the video of Kleve into something positive.
“I think people are very heated right now, but this hatred, that’s here today and gone tomorrow,” he said.
More important was making a lasting change on campus, he added.
“I didn’t call for (Kleve) to be expelled, but I did call for the students and the community to step up and act responsibly and recognize we have a great opportunity here to really make some change.”