Editor’s Note: The identities of the individuals in the photo are blurred and were not included in the article due to threats of legal action.
By Jake Shore
A picture of a group of Fordham students posing on Murphy Field with an alt-right flag has been circulating on social media in the last month, making appearances on online forums about the alt-right and meme pages. A Ram investigation into the photo suggests that everyone surrounding the flag except the person who brought it did not know they were about to be immortalized digitally alongside an alt-right symbol.
Ten students are pictured around a “Kekistan” flag after an intramural soccer game last spring, which has been used as a symbol of white nationalism.
Every student, after being contacted, verified the photo as real but did not wish to be identified by name or face. Most of the students interviewed said they had absolutely no idea that they were posing with a symbol of white nationalism and condemned alt-right politics.
“When we were taking the picture, I paid no attention to the flag, as I was unaware of what it stood for,” said one student. “Just recently, I have discovered that the flag has been used as a political symbol of discrimination and hate. I was horrified.”
Nine of the 10 students pictured told The Fordham Ram they were unaware of what the flag represented when the photo was taken. Except for the student who brought the flag, everyone pictured said they learned it stood for an alt-right ideology only afterwards and sought to be dissociated from it.
“We had planned to take a picture for our last soccer game that semester. Having the flag in the background was not planned,” one student said. “At the time of the photo, most of the team didn’t know what the flag was.”
“I honestly thought it was a country flag,” said another student. “I feel terrible that the pic is offensive, but I really had no idea what the flag stood for at the time.”
Two members of Fordham College Republicans are pictured in the photo, one of whom owned the flag and brought it out for the photo. He defended his actions to The Ram as a “meme” and “a joke done in a private context.”
“This photo literally impacted no one,” said the student who brought the flag, “All I can say is that this photo was a joke. We were representing the fictional Kekistani national team as a joke.”
Both men pictured who were in College Republicans at the time that the soccer field photo was taken also participated in the December “free speech” altercation at Rodrigues’ Coffee House.
The two pictured College Republicans, one whom has since left the club, confirmed that university investigators asked them about the photo during the investigation into the Rodrigues’ incident. However, they said the photo was only a small part of the investigation.
The member who brought the flag said he has since left the College Republicans. The eight other students pictured were unaffiliated with the club and took no part in last year’s actions at the coffee house.
The Kekistan flag bases its design off of a German Nazi war flag and has been used by white nationalist groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some white nationalists brandished the flag at a demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia last year. However, the picture of the group of students was taken in the spring of 2017, while the Charlottesville protest took place in August of 2017.
Christopher Rodgers, Rose Hill dean of students, released a short statement on behalf of the university regarding the picture of the alt-right flag:
“Fordham University neither condones nor allows hate speech. After researching the background, symbolism and context of the image, the University took steps to address the situation with the students involved.”
Rodgers declined to comment further on those steps.
Interim Title IX Coordinator Patricia Scaglione said she could not comment on the status of an active investigation. John Carroll, associate vice president of Public Safety, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that monitors extremist groups, said “Kekistan” originated as an online meme from the messaging board site 4chan but was later co-opted by the alt-right and white nationalist groups.
In one explainer on the symbol, the group detailed how “Kekistan” exists in a murky space in public discourse “between satire, irony, mockery, and serious ideology; Kek can be both a big joke to pull on liberals and a reflection of the alt-right’s own self-image as serious agents of chaos in modern society.”
The College Republicans executive board said in a statement that they want it to be known that the symbol in the photo and its ideology has nothing to do with their club.
“Things like this, like the Kekistan flag, that are intended to inflame people, if they are intended to inflame, they are not affiliated with our club and not affiliated with traditional conservatism,” said the statement.
Rodgers declined to comment on how university policy addresses symbols of this nature.
One of the pictured students posted the photo to Facebook last year to celebrate the team’s intramural soccer win, but the poster was not apparently aware of the flag’s connotations. The post was deleted this week, after The Fordham Ram began its inquiry.
Since last spring when the photo was taken, it has been posted and reposted on different corners of the Internet. The student who brought the flag to the game also apparently posted it to the subreddit r/kekistan last year. The picture has since been deleted but the thread has not.
In the past month, the picture had been featured on a Kekistan meme page with a large following on social media. The photo is also featured in several different 4chan threads, a messaging board website where the Kekistan meme originated, and across different meme posting websites.
In some instances, anonymous commenters on the threads where the photo was posted disparaged members of the photo based on their race and gender.
Most of the students in the photo, after being contacted, expressed surprise about the photo being brought up at this point in time, having been unaware of the flag’s meaning and how much the photo had spread online.
“I do not agree with anything that the flag represents or stands for, and I am quite angry that I am even in a picture with this flag,” one student said, “As a result of this lack of communication, I will not be playing for the team anymore.”