Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of racial and physical violence.
On Thursday, several Zoom events held by Rutgers organizations in honor of Black History Month were disrupted by racist attacks from an unknown group, which included racial slurs as well as disturbing music and videos.
The events first garnered attention from an Instagram post by the Delta Iota chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity that went viral, reaching more than 19,000 likes and 1,000 comments over the weekend. The post gave a detailed account of an incident occurring on Thursday at one of the chapter’s events.
The Delta Iota chapter attempted to host a program called Renaissance Man: A Discussion on the Cultural Influence of Dynamic Black Leaders, scheduled for 8 p.m. on Zoom. Jafari Wells, an Alpha Phi Alpha brother and School of Arts and Sciences senior, said they started to notice some agitation in the chat from outside individuals at approximately 7:56 p.m. before the meeting.
The agitation started to intensify at approximately 8 p.m., leading the chapter to open a separate Zoom meeting and move the program there, he said. An Alpha Phi Alpha brother attempted to end the first Zoom meeting but could not do so for reasons currently unknown.
Several minutes later, another Alpha Phi Alpha brother alerted the chapter to a commotion in the first call, Wells said. He and other brothers returned to the original meeting, where they found the group of individuals screen sharing a video compilation of Black people being murdered in a graphic manner, such as through beheading.
“The very first thing I see is a Black man with his carcass being split in half at the rib cage,” he said. “Every time I get memories of it, it feels like it’s happening to me again.”
The individuals also played a song from the Ku Klux Klan that repeatedly said “kill all blacks” and “we will find you,” according to the post. They called the brothers the n-word and “dindus” in the chat and changed their names to phrases such as, “I love fried chicken” and “Tyrone Dindu," a racist term.
The perpetrators left the Zoom meeting at approximately 8:12 p.m. and committed similar attacks in another Black History Month event, according to the post. Wells said they realized that one of the fraternity brothers had started recording the attack, though it did not capture audio from the incident.
The incident is under criminal investigation, but due to the lack of audio in the recording, it may be difficult to track down the culprits and to provide the evidence necessary for a criminal conviction, he said.
Rutgers authorities involved in the investigation include Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy, University President Jonathan Holloway, the Rutgers University Police Department, the Office of Information Technology and the Division of Student Affairs, Molloy said Friday in a University-wide email.
He said in the email the attacks are not localized, meaning they are likely part of a larger-scale international activity.
“This creates some challenges, as it requires the involvement of various jurisdictions and technology companies,” Molloy said, according to the email. “We will not resolve this overnight, and it is likely that incidents like these may reoccur before the perpetrators are identified.”
Events held by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center and the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities (SJE) were similarly violated on Thursday and are part of the investigation, he said.
SJE was hosting a virtual screening of a film featuring an LGBTQ+ Black woman in honor of Black History Month when individuals came to disrupt it with racist and homophobic statements, according to an Instagram post. The organization addressed the situation by removing offenders and blocking additional attackers as quickly as possible.
Similar attacks have been occurring outside of Rutgers organizations across the nation, including in Texas, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., Wells said.
Two historically Black sororities at Rider University were also targeted recently, with the perpetrators drawing swastikas, writing phrases such as “white power” on the Zoom screen and using racial slurs, he said. He said the fraternity will meet with them today alongside individuals from the Rutgers NAACP to have a discussion regarding the events.
Going forward, the Delta Iota chapter will release a formal plan of action from its Instagram page to address the incident and raise awareness, Wells said.
“My main wish out of this, if nothing comes criminally, (is to) raise as much attention as possible so that platform has some type of safeguard against it,” he said. “No individual, Black, white or in between should have to go through the trauma that we experienced.”
Wells said the incident is not surprising given the history of racism against Black people, but such treatment will not deteriorate their spirit.
“We are a group of strong Black men, and we refuse to allow some group of, again, infantile, cowardly punks to desecrate such a spirit and such a legacy of Black pride,” he said.