The University of Nebraska-Lincoln said Tuesday it is aware of the activities of a junior student claiming to be “the most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area,” adding it was taking the matter “very seriously.”
But students say university leaders have largely ignored their concerns about Daniel J. Kleve, as well as their calls to have him removed from campus.
Video circulated by Anti-Fascist Action Nebraska on Monday summarized 23-year-old Kleve's documented activities since August, when he took part in a white supremacist event in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
“I’m a regular person, just going to school,” Kleve says in the video, captured from a Google Hangout among several white supremacists. “I am the most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area.”
Kleve goes on to say that while he may not look like other white nationalists because of the way he presents himself, that “doesn’t mean that I don’t love violence.”
“You don’t have to look like a violent person to be violent,” he said.
The racist rhetoric cast an angry and sad pall over the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center on Monday evening, when a group of about 30 students watched the video together, said Sydnii Washington, a sophomore from Omaha.
Some students voiced fear they could be targeted; others said they weren’t surprised by Kleve’s white supremacist views, Washington said.
“People have classes with him, people have been frustrated, he’s open with his thoughts about people of color, or as he calls it, white genocide,” she said. “The teachers allow it and it makes students of color very uncomfortable.”
Students have raised concerns about Kleve’s views and actions to University police and campus administrators for months after the Norfolk native was seen standing alongside members of Vanguard America — designated a white supremacist group by the Anti-Defamation League — and in one photo, attacking a protester with a flashlight.
Those images should be enough for university leaders to act, said one student who asked not to be identified because they feared retaliation: “We believe that violates the code of conduct, which says violence is unacceptable in or out of school.”
The senior student from Omaha said several complaints have been filed with university leaders, but to no avail.
So Wednesday, members of UNL Against Hate will hold a 1:15 p.m. rally at the Nebraska Union Plaza to shed light on racial intolerance and anti-Semitism spread by Kleve through YouTube and other social-media outlets.
“The hope was the university would act before there had to be a large outcry,” said the senior student. “They didn’t, and the response for the student body indicated there needed to be student action.”
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.
UNL Police Chief Owen Yardley said in an earlier statement “sometimes safety professionals have to be very discreet about what they can say regarding such matters,” reiterating the “matter is being taken seriously.”
Kleve has publicly identified himself as a white nationalist before the Lincoln City Council when he testified in opposition to a resolution celebrating diversity and taking a stand against hate and intolerance last September.
He also apparently participated in a series of “White Lives Matter” rallies in Tennessee last October, according to Anti-Fascist Action Nebraska, and was present when a group of white supremacists attacked a biracial couple.
Kleve’s videos and the calls to remove him from campus add another dimension to the free speech debate that cooled somewhat on Jan. 25 with the NU Board of Regents unanimously approving several policies outlining its “Commitment to Free Expression.”
While it acknowledged the calls to remove Kleve from campus, UNL’s statement does not outline any action by the university. Instead, UNL said it denounces bigotry, condemns violence and objects “to activities that strike fear among our students.”
“The campus is comprised of people of diverse backgrounds, with different life experiences,” UNL’s statement says. “We encourage civil and respectful discussion of ideas and opinions.”
David Moshman, a UNL emeritus professor who writes extensively about free speech and expression in academic settings, said hate speech is protected by the First Amendment no matter how objectionable or offensive it might be.
“There is no exception for hate speech in First Amendment law,” Moshman wrote in an email. “Fascists and white supremacists have a right to say what they believe, however hateful their ideas, and those who hate fascists or white supremacists have a right to say so.”
True threats, libel or harassment of specific individuals may make Kleve subject to disciplinary action or criminal charges, Moshman added, but he “may not be silenced, banned, or punished simply for expressing hateful ideas.”
Students such as the members of UNL Against Hate say while they respect the right to free speech, they are becoming increasingly concerned about their safety at UNL. Wednesday’s rally is not to try to silence Kleve, they said, but to show support for the people he's targeted.
Washington said many students of color have grown weary of fighting the same fight their parents and grandparents fought “to tell someone that you and your people have a right to live.”
“Talking to my parents, I’m really tired of it, I’m ready to transfer to UNO,” Washington said. “I think that’s the best move for me.”