On Tuesday, Dylan Marek, a member of the Rutgers Conservative Union, posted a picture of a flyer into several Rutgers University graduating class Facebook pages. Branded “Take Your Country Back,” the flyer featured an American flag logo in the corner and urged students to "take a stand" and join the newly official campus organization.
The poster was intended to attract people who felt disenfranchised from the American political scheme, Marek said.
“It was an organizationally-sponsored poster,” the School of Arts and Sciences first-year student said.
Marek said the content of the poster was his idea, but the template was borrowed. He elaborated on this, saying he took the template from Microsoft Word, but the message written on the flyer was originally his own.
On Dec. 8, a self-proclaimed white supremacist group, the American Vanguard, posted a near-identical flyer on their official Facebook page. The Vanguard's poster also featured the phrase “Take your country back” in capitalized letters with an American flag logo in the top right corner and a six-line paragraph of text beneath — of which more than 30 percent of the wording was identical to the Conservative Union’s flyer.
The most notable aesthetic discrepancy between the two documents was the logo, Twitter <g>handle</g> and website that appeared in a 1-inch black bar at the bottom of the American Vanguard’s flyer.
This was the exact same logo and bar that appeared at the bottom of the anti-Muslim flyer found at the Paul Robeson Cultural Center on Feb. 13. This poster, which garnered widespread media attention, featured the Twin Towers and the caption “Imagine a Muslim-free America.”
Marek said his organization, which includes 80-90 members, has no affiliation with the American Vanguard, and that he first heard of the white supremacist group a few weeks ago, after reading an article about the incident.
The placing of posters on the Paul Robeson Cultural Center was free speech, he said, adding that he supports the fact that charges will not be brought against the culprit if they are found.
“As far as the message of the poster … it was very provocative, to say the least. But I think a discussion should be brought about whether or not the key tenets of Islam, which talk about you know, killing gays and forcing women to wear burkas, not to drive, not to have education, these types of things, the key tenets of Islam should be under question and whether or not they’re compatible with America, or what we stand for, that should be up for debate,” Marek said.
The key tenets of Islam, commonly referred to as the five pillars of Islam, are oneness of God, prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage to Mecca, said Yasmin Ramadan, the vice chair of the Rutgers University Muslim Alumni Association.
"In order for something to be up for debate, the facts must be clearly laid out — and the fact of the matter is, misguided assumptions about the religion of 1.6 billion people based on no factual evidence cannot be taken seriously," she said.
Ramadan said Islam does not advocate for the killing of gay people, forcing women to wear burkas, not to drive or not to have an education.
"In one sense, you're right: those things are not compatible with American values. And they are most certainly not compatible with Islamic values. Anyone who believes otherwise must learn to separate fact from political propaganda, and realize that these stereotypes have direct, harmful (and often fatal) consequences on fellow human beings. This sort of harmful rhetoric has no place Rutgers, which is strengthened by its diversity and has continually represented tolerance informed by facts rather than ignorance," she said.
In a statement to The Daily Targum on Tuesday, University spokesperson Karen Smith said officials condemn the original flyers on the cultural center and are continuing to investigate the situation.
“Our goal is to make sure all of our students feel comfortable and supported in our diverse campus environment and we take this kind of speech very seriously,” Smith said.
The University mandates that only Rutgers-affiliated student organizations and departments are authorized to post or distribute printed materials. Additionally, all advertising is required to “comply with University non-discrimination policy,” according to the Student Center website.
Marek said the Rutgers Conservative Union plans to use its new status as an official organization to table, invite speakers to campus and hand out flyers. The first tabling event is scheduled to take place before spring break, and the organization plans to hand out the “Take Back Your Country” flyer, alongside two or three other forms, he said.
The point of rebranding the organization from "Make Rutgers Great Again" to the "Rutgers Conservative Union," was to give members a platform to promote conservative and American nationalist values on campus, Marek said.
“As far as speakers go, we’ll keep you in suspense, but we have some people we’re thinking about trying to contact and bring over,” he said.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include information from the Rutgers University Muslim Alumni Association.
Chloe Dopico is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the Associate News Editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @ChloeDopico for more.
Kira Herzog is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @kiraherzog1 for more.