How do UNC Charlotte and the ROTC react to hate speech? One student put the question to the test – The student spread racist, anti-Semitic ideology through an anonymous Twitter account

A former UNC Charlotte cadet has been expelled from the ROTC program after a U.S. Army investigation concluded that the student had operated an anonymous white supremacist Twitter account.

The investigations started in Nov. 2018, when the Carolina Workers Collective, a leftist group that defines itself as “Working class opposition to white supremacy and the state in rural NC,” exposed the student’s anonymous Twitter account in a series of tweets providing evidence of its racist and anti-Semitic content. The Workers group matched photos from the anonymous account @femanon__ with photos from the owner’s Facebook and Instagram to verify the student’s identity as a member of the ROTC program at Davidson College. The tweets included content supporting the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and encouraging violence against Jews. The account has since been deleted.

The student then transferred to UNC Charlotte as a physics major. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the University is prohibited from providing any information about a student beyond their enrollment status, but the Niner Times confirmed that the former cadet was listed in the UNC Charlotte student directory until June 2. However, the removal of the former cadet’s name does not mean the student was expelled or has unenrolled. Students can request that the University withhold all directory information, including name, email address and any images of the student.

Chief of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army Cadet Command, Major Robert Carter, confirmed that the student was expelled from the ROTC program in June following the Army’s seven-month investigation.

It remains unclear whether the former cadet is still enrolled at UNC Charlotte.

The former cadet is not the only person to use the perceived anonymity of the internet to spread extremist views. Social media and online chatrooms not only present the question of whether free speech should be regulated, but also what obligation a university, company or government has to track their members’ online presence.

The ROTC defers to Army Regulation 600-20 regarding matters of hate speech. Major Carter explained in an interview with the Niner Times that, “There are curtailments of certain rights and one of those is the right to free speech, because [cadets] cannot by regulation go out and participate in a riot or a speech or something that’s provocative in nature.”

Major Carter added that a cadet cannot simply turn to social media — even an anonymous Twitter account — to avoid the ROTC’s restrictions on hate speech. “Just because you put a disclaimer [in your bio] does not mean you get to continue to spew hate speech and advocate for white supremacy or anything of that nature… You are a cadet 24/7.”

UNC Charlotte’s policy towards hate speech is found in its Code of Student Responsibility, which prohibits “acts of harm,” including “discriminatory and gender-based harassment/intimidation.” The University confirmed this in their official statement to the Niner Times: “The University strongly condemns hate speech in all forms and is committed to disciplining any instances of harassment or intimidation under the Code of Student Responsibility.”

Over the last six months, the ROTC has had 3 incidents of hate speech out of a population of over 30,000 cadets. According to Major Carter, all three of those incidents revolved around white supremacy. There is no single Army agency in charge of reviewing cadets’ online presence; they rely on their commanders to report any incidents of extremist behavior.

UNC Charlotte does not vet students’ online presences either, saying “UNC Charlotte receives well over 20,000 undergraduate applications annually and does not conduct internet or social media searches as part of the normal admissions process.”

The student has not responded to the Niner Times’ requests for comment.

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