An SF State student’s hateful ideology was exposed on Tuesday, Oct. 9 when flyers were posted anonymously warning the student body that “a violent Nazi” was in their midst.
The flyers read “Alert!Alert! Nazi on Campus,” and depicted a photo collage of 37-year-old Brian Cofield, shirtless with a swastika tattoo, above text that read “I was born to hate Islam.”
Cofield’s Instagram account name is @nazibrian805, and the first line of his bio reads “Skinhead for Life!”
An undergraduate communications major enrolled in a race and resistance class, Cofield said he last posted racist propaganda on Instagram about two years ago, and deactivated the account after campus police showed him the flyers last week.
His still-active Facebook account under alias Parker Lewis venerates Hitler and contains anti-Islam and anti-Semitic rhetoric. He said he supports white supremacy, but doesn’t intend to harm anyone.
“That may be difficult to believe after seeing something like that,” he said, referring to memes he posted such as an image of a soldier aiming an automatic weapon under the words “Refugees welcome.”
“But I’m speaking from the heart.”
He acknowledged how the racist and threatening content of his social media could make students fearful.
“I thought if I go [to SF State], cover up my [white-supremacist tattoos], speak respectfully and treat everyone with respect, it would be just fine — but social media came back and bit me in the ass,” he said. “I have no personal hatred for an individual person.”
Despite his anti-Islamic posts, Cofield said he enrolled in a course on the Palestinian perspective because he is sympathetic with their struggle.
But he disagrees with the curriculum on European imperialism.
“I think it’s OK for white people to take their own side,” he said. “You go to these classes filled with white guilt, colonialism, slavery, genocide, trail of tears, Holocaust. They beat you down with that stuff to feel guilty for our ancestors.”
Larry Salomon, race and resistance professor, said there is no evidence that supports the notion that white people are being victimized. Salomon said that’s especially true now since conservatives run the Supreme Court, White House and corporate America.
He said he believes it’s interesting that most people who complain about liberal “snowflakes” are the people who are most easily offended by a changing world.
“Does this university climate, which has an emphasis on social justice values and courses that represent histories that are not white supremacist histories, challenge racists?” he asked. “Of course they do, as they should.”
The flyers’ anonymous author(s) also sent an anonymous email to faculty, students and alumnus of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora Initiative program with more images from Cofield’s Instagram and Facebook photos, and showing Cofield’s assault with a deadly weapon charge listed on checkpeople.com.
“His presence on campus has me extremely concerned for the safety and livelihood of my colleagues, you, myself and all queer [people], people of color and Jewish people on this campus,” states the email. “He needs to be expelled from the university immediately, as he clearly poses a massive physical threat to the groups of people I listed — which is the majority of this campus.”
Cofield said the criminal charge for assault with a deadly weapon happened in 2000 and he had to serve time in county jail.
According to 2016 SF State’s Ethnicity and Gender Data, white people make up 25 percent of students. Latino and Asian students outnumber them at about 33 and 30 percent, respectively.
The most underrepresented groups on campus are Black, Pacific Islander, and Native American students.
Cofield said he thinks the flyers were “a hit-piece” intended to ruin his life.
“I know the group that targeted me, the radical leftists,” he said, declining to say who he believed the group to be. “They can throw my name on flyer and throw it around school, but they don’t put their name on it.”
In response to the anonymous email blast, Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora Initiative supporters called for support from the community because the university leadership wasn’t easing their concerns. Cofield said he plans to attend SF State for two more years until he graduates.
Ayana Cariaso, community coordinator for Filipino college endeavor, said she is not surprised a student at SF State openly supports racist ideals.
“It’s concerning — upsetting, but yeah,” Cariaso said. “It’s not something that’s shocking to me anymore. Especially, with our campus history and politics today.”
SF State is the first and only university in the U.S. to dedicate a department to ethnic studies after the five-month-long student strike of 1968 forced a predominantly white, conservative administration to buckle.
“SF State students fought for that,” she said. “And it’s saddening and disheartening to see such malicious hate like that here.”
La Raza member Aurora Macha said she was surprised someone with Cofield’s views would be taking courses at a diverse campus like SF State.
“It seems like a targeting thing. He posts stuff a Nazi would on Instagram,” Macha said. “And images were very public on the anti-Muslim rhetoric. It’s disturbing.”
She said Cofield’s presence is concerning for all people who already feel intimidated by hate groups and by people who spread those views.
“Not just for me,” she said. “But for the people around me like students of color, LGBTQ+ students, Jewish and Muslim people who I know would be feeling unsafe.”
Shimina Harris, interim dean of students, said the university can’t talk about the flyer posting incident or Cofield because campus police are investigating the source and validity of the flyers.
Harris said “appropriate actions will be taken” if the university finds Cofield does present a threat. But, she added, SF State is part of the larger California State University (CSU) system that serves a wide range of individuals from varying backgrounds and viewpoints.
“[Campus police] investigates all incidents of hate, violence, threat and other crimes against persons or properties,” she said.
Cofield said Harris reached out to him to let him know that he could contact the Dean’s Office if he feels harassed.
Salomon said he hopes that he is enrolled in the race and resistance course to learn from his colleagues.
“I hope he is someone who is confused about the world and his place in it, but open minded enough to understand new perspectives,” Salomon said. “That’s the point of what we are doing here, so I sincerely hope this person has that in mind.”