College Republicans United apologizes for racism amid outcry

The apology comes following press coverage and criticism from a local civil rights activist

College Republicans United, a fringe conservative group at ASU, apologized March 25 for some of its members' racist and sexist comments and vowed to condemn any discriminatory behavior in the future. 

The apology comes after growing outcry and press coverage over statements made by group members in private online chats that were initially uncovered by The State Press and Phoenix New Times

"Moving forward, under my presidency ... we will condemn to the highest degree any behavior involving racism, anti-Semitism, any level of discrimination to any group whatsoever, we will condemn it," said the group's new president, Matthew Northway. 

Critics of the group's racism include local Baptist minister and civil rights activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin, who said CRU had until 5 p.m. Monday to offer a satisfactory apology "or else we would protest on Wednesday.

"They cut it really close," he said. 

Northway became the club’s president last week after his predecessor, Joshua Bernard, stepped down from the position. 

At the meeting on Monday, former club president Rick Thomas apologized for tweets he made over the last several years.

"Over the past two years, or even longer, we would often have decorum of messages that is much different in private than it is in public," Thomas said. "Sometimes it was silly, sometimes it was inappropriate ... and I’m sure they’ve offended some of you, all of you should be offended by it."

Thomas also discussed a previous club meeting at which controversial conservative internet personalities Ashton Whitty and Tim Gionet spoke to club members. He repeated the claim that Gionet, also known as Baked Alaska, was not invited to campus and only accompanied his girlfriend, Whitty, to act as her cameraman. 

The State Press recently discovered a post on the club’s page from Feb. 9 that indicates Gionet was deliberately invited to the meeting. 

"I’ll be honest, he was a white supremacist and a nationalist of that type back then," Thomas said, referring to Gionet’s involvement in planning the white nationalist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. "We didn’t expect that he would come.

"Nonetheless, I understand that it hurt feelings, it hurt a lot of people that he would come to ASU," Thomas said. "It was bad optics on our part, and I completely understand why people were upset."

Thomas said that Gionet had since "renounced white nationalism" and called the incident a "learning experience."  

During Monday's meeting, Thomas also apologized to Bernard specifically, who is black.

“My comments of African-Americans hurt Josh, and I consider Josh to be my best friend, and he was my vice president last year, and he took over after I had stepped down for the year, and it was completely inappropriate,” Thomas said.

Bernard was not present at the meeting and did not return emails from The State Press in time for publication.

Kevin Decuyper, a founding CRU member and current chairman of sister group Republicans United, also apologized in front of the club’s members. Decuyper was among those who made statements in a private Facebook group calling for the normalization of white-nationalist views.

“I absolutely condemn everything that I had said in private, but at the same time, it was construed by the media in a negative light far beyond what was actually meant,” Decuyper said. 

Read more: ASU begins investigating racist comments made by members of College Republicans United

Maupin, who is often involved in organizing protests and other civil actions in response to public instances of racism, has come under scrutiny in recent years for allegedly profiting on victims in exchange for his  advocacy, according to The Arizona Republic.

He was also vocal during a 2014 controversy that resulted in an ASU fraternity being kicked off campus after it threw a racist Martin Luther King Jr.-themed party. 

"There have been ongoing issues at ASU since long before this event," Maupin said. "We have been monitoring a rise in complaints from students and faculty at campus that rhetoric and incidents involving xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and more have been on the rise."

The controversy comes after the ASU Council of Coalitions ramped up calls on the University to improve the  experience for students of color and to stop "protecting Nazis." 

"We’ve asked them to put out a statement to say 'Nazis and white supremacists aren’t welcome,' that’s what the very least of our ask is, and they refused to," Sarra Tekola, a doctoral student in sustainability and founder of the grassroots Multicultural Solidarity Coalition, said during a protest in front of the Fulton Center at the end of February. 

At the time, the University released an emailed statement saying that it "is committed at its core to accessibility, inclusivity, diversity and to the success of all of its students." ASU was unavailable for further comment in time for publication Monday night.

Read More: Student protestors call for ASU to address issues facing marginalized communities

CRU leadership is planning a public apology at Old Main on Tuesday, which Maupin said he will attend. 

"This is going to be a 'we shall see moment,'" Maupin said. “This was premeditated, deeply held and passionate racism — 'I’m sorry' will not be good enough."

Maupin lambasted Republicans who didn’t condemn the actions until they reached the national press, including CRU adviser and former Department of Economic Security official Charles Loftus. Loftus said he would consider stepping down following the comments, according to a Phoenix New Times story released earlier on Monday.

“What will it take for Republican leaders to rein in their young leaders when they have gone astray of civility?” Maupin asked.  

“What will they have to do? Shoot someone? Beat them up? March through the campus with tiki torches?” he asked, an apparent nod to images featuring members of the club holding tiki torches similar to the ones white nationalist marchers held in Charlottesville. 

Northway said the group will hold itself accountable and that there is no place in the organization for racism. He also encouraged members of the club to be vigilant about their actions to prevent similar incidents in the future.

“We live in a hyper-political world,” Northway said. “What you say, and what you do, in private and in public, is under intense scrutiny. What you text, send on social media, say in a face-to-face conversation, doesn’t matter — you have to be careful.” 

This story is developing and will be updated as more information becomes available. 


Reach the reporters at isaac.windes@asu.edu and vandana.ravikumar@asu.edu or follow @isaacdwindes and @vandana_rav on Twitter.

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