MADISON, Wis. – A University of Wisconsin-Madison student who once served prison time for setting fires at two predominantly black churches is recruiting on campus for a local chapter of a national pro-white party, enraging students searching for ways to improve race relations.
Daniel Dropik, 33, said frustration over the Black Lives Matter movement's presence on campus and university courses examining white and male privilege led him to start a local chapter of the American Freedom Party. The American Freedom Party is a political party with deep ties to white supremacism, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
Dropik's recruiting comes as minorities have been pushing UW-Madison leaders to better protect them following several incidents targeting black and Jewish students last spring.
Dropik, who spoke to The Associated Press in an interview, said the university has gone overboard in supporting non-white students and promoting cultural diversity.
"It's become unacceptable," Dropik said. "If white people have problems, they need to be able to organize."
In 2005, Dropik was convicted in federal court of racially-motivated arsons at two predominantly black churches in Milwaukee and Lansing, Michigan. According to court documents, Dropik told investigators he believed a black person had stolen his backpack in a Milwaukee bus terminal and black men beat him up during a party near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He served about five years in prison.
Dropik has since become a student at UW-Madison and is in his second year studying computer science. He denied that his group promotes white supremacism and said he has been bombarded with threats since he started handing out information about the chapter on campus about a week ago. A dozen UW-Madison students and community members have expressed interest in joining, he said.
Students are planning a Tuesday march protesting Dropik's efforts. As of Thursday night, more than 170 people plan to attend and 600 more are interested, according to the Facebook event.
"This thinly veiled white nationalism and blatant racism has no place on the diverse UW-Madison campus or in the city as a whole," the event's description says.
Kat Kerwin, one of the protest organizers, called Dropik's group "a modern-day Ku Klux Klan." Kerwin's group, the Student Coalition for Progress, plans to demand university leaders do not recognize the Madison-American Freedom Party as an official student organization.
Kerwin said that while she recognizes the right to free speech, she doesn't believe the group's ideas fall under those protections.
"This is hateful speech that is damaging to other people," Kerwin said.
Wisconsin Black Student Union President Marquise Mays did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a news release that the university is monitoring the situation and is not aware of any safety threats to students.
"We continue to track this situation closely given the student's history," Blank said. "We will not tolerate discrimination against any student. We will also not tolerate harassment, threats, hate crimes or violence against any student."
Blank said she will ask the Board of Regents to consider reviewing UW System policy that prohibits consideration of criminal histories in admissions.
Dropik, who said he voted for President Donald Trump, doesn't think his group will have any trouble becoming a registered student organization given that it would not exclude anyone from joining.
Republican state Sen. Stephen Nass of Whitewater, a frequent UW System critic, earlier this month accused the university of declaring a "war on men" with an initiative exploring masculinity and criticized a class about white privilege. Nass' spokesman, Mike Mikalsen, said Nass does not agree with all of Dropik's views, but supports his right to express them and widen the array of ideas on campus.
The campus saw a string of racially charged incidents in the spring of 2016, including a black student getting spit on and called racial slurs, a swastika drawn on a Jewish student's door and police arresting a black student during class for spray-painting anti-racist messages on buildings.
University leaders announced in August a plan that calls for students from several dorms to discuss social differences, the creation of a black cultural center, increasing the size of ethnic studies courses and diversity training for faculty and staff. Dropik said such training amounts to indoctrinating radical viewpoints.