Is freedom to speak, freedom to hate?

February 21, 2006

Bob Huber has close ties to skinhead groups in the region.

He operates a hate-based record label in Newark and plays guitar for a hardcore band called Teardown. He is featured in the "Skinhead Hall of Fame" on a popular white supremacist Web site. He sports racist tatoos.

And last month, with the help of the Keystone State Skinheads, he organized UPRISE 2006, a white power hardcore rock show in Southeastern Pennsylvania that drew more than 150 people.

He also taught Introductory Physics II (PHYS 202) at the university last month.

The Wilmington News Journal reported Feb. 12 that Huber, a 32-year-old doctorate candidate at the university, is a prominent figure in the regional white power movement. Officials at the Newark Police Department said Huber has been involved in white supremacist groups in the area since his teens.

"Sure, we know about him," Lt. Thomas LeMin said. "We have always tracked and investigated white power groups and other fringe groups. It’s always been something that all police departments have to look into."

Barry Morrison, director of the Philadelphia office of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that tracks the activities of neo-Nazis, terrorists and other hate groups, said Huber’s record label, Final Stand Records, which features bands like Hate Society, Aryan Law and Race Riot on its Web site, has a clearly defined agenda.

"The message is that people who are not white are not to be accepted, that the country is not their country," he said. "The favorites of the skinheads are blacks, Asians, Latinos, Jews and gays."

Morrison said most skinheads merely seek political change, but that Huber’s lyrics are unguardedly violent.

"There is no question that the lyrics are violent and hateful," he said. "They have taken hardcore music and fused it with hate. It is violent language and it is specifically targeted at the groups I mentioned before."

In the opening verse of "Bomb the Cities," by the Blue Eyed Devils, a band with which Huber played until 2003 and whose music is sold by Final Stand Records, the following lines appear:

"Traitors are hung and others shot dead / Kill the Jew and cut off his head / Destroy the enemy and his lies / Send the filth to an early demise."

Huber’s most recent musical endevour, Teardown, also releases albums on Final Stand Records. The lyrics are notably less directed at racial groups and pointed toward society at large. In the song, "The Enemy," the following lyrics appear:

"Millions swarm to take advantage of the corrupt puppet system / And the righteous are brought to their knees / Kill this f—ing disease / (Victory or death, forever loyal to my beliefs)."

Robert Huber said he is not a skinhead, as last week’s News Journal report alleged.

Until Monday, he had not granted an interview to any news sources in the region, and then commented to The Review only via e-mail.

He is currently considering legal action against the News Journal, according to an e-mail message sent last Thursday by Huber to students in his Winter Session physics class (and obtained by The Review from a student in the class who asked to remain anonymous). Commenting on his development as an artist, Huber said personal views are not set in stone.

"Age and wisdom brings refined philosophies on life," he stated in an e-mail message. "What I am concerned about today is not necessarily what I was concerned about when I was young. Teardown is a band that plays a style of music called hardcore, and sings about the hypocrisy of society and its laws, as well as the problems we all encounter in life."

Before they were contacted by the News Journal last week, officials at the university were unaware of Huber’s controversial views.

And until his picture was featured on the front page of the News Journal, Huber appeared to be no different than any of his colleagues in the physics department.

University President David P. Roselle said an investigation by the university – which was initiated following contact by the News Journal and included the physics and astronomy department, University Police, legal counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union – found Huber’s record at the university to be unblemished. Never has a student filed a complaint against him. The university found no bias in his grading. And university police officials, after consulting state and national police records, confirmed that he has no criminal arrest record.

In fact, several of the approximately 100 students whom Huber instructed during Winter Session said he was an excellent teacher. All of them, however, made it clear that his personal views ought to remain outside the classroom.

One student, who asked to remain anonymous, said Huber wore his hair in a clean-cut, conservative style and concealed his tattoos beneath his shirt sleeves. He was one of the best teachers she has had at the university.

"He was great," she said. "He came to class on time. He stayed afterwards. He was always available in his office . . . everyone dreads taking that class, and I hated physics until I took his class.

"He can teach physics and that’s what’s important. If he had tried to discuss his views with me that would be another story."

The university and the First Amendment uphold this student’s opinion – that actions committed outside the classroom, if legal, cannot impact the status of a student or employee at the university.

"It is a personal affront when persons with hateful beliefs espouse those beliefs, insist upon their right to make public displays of their beliefs, or otherwise spread their venom," Roselle stated in an e-mail message. "But a fundamental tenet of our nation is that my objection or, as in this case, the university’s objection, is not sufficient reason to deny the right of free speech."

And yet, some students are upset the university has not taken action, particularly in light of the "zero tolerance for hate" policy released by Roselle in October.

"The University of Delaware must and will have a zero tolerance for hate," Roselle stated in an open letter to the university. "There is no place at the University of Delaware for those whose credo is meanness and whose method is intimidation."

Guillermo Febres, president of the Campus Alliance de La Raza, a Latino student group at the university, said the university’s reaction to the situation is hypocritical.

"In my understanding the zero-tolerance policy was supposed to combat or prevent situations like this," he said. "And, of course, I was disappointed when I discovered nothing would be done.

"I would like to know what the purpose of the policy is."

Desiree Norwood, president of the Black Student Union, said her organization is also confused by the inability of the university to apply the zero-tolerance policy. Other student groups – including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, HAVEN and the Delaware Undergraduate Student Congress – have not released formal responses.

William Manning, legal counsel for the university, said that while First Amendment rights are not absolute, Huber is entitled to voice his opinions as loudly as he likes – as long as he keeps them off campus.

"No one enjoys the restrictions imposed by the First Amendment in cases like this," he said. "There is just a very clear command by the First Amendment – and upon reflection, I’ve found, personally, that it is appropriate.

"There isn’t any university, at least a public university, that has successfully composed a speech code that says where you say things that we think are ugly or vile you can be sanctioned. You can’t do that."

Julia Graff, staff attorney for the Delaware chapter of the ACLU, said Huber’s right to free speech is extremely important, regardless of how offensive his words are. But what is not permissible, she said, is for an instructor’s speech to impinge on a student’s ability to learn.

"Courts want to ensure the free market of ideas and rigorous intellectual debate on university campuses," she said. "But any university receiving federal funding is required by the government [under the Civil Rights Act of 1964] to ensure the equal rights of minority students to a non-hostile learning environment."

Junior Jason Rosenberg, a chemical engineering major and active member of the Jewish community at the university, said he knows he would not feel comfortable in a classroom with Huber – even if he keeps his personal views out.

"I wouldn’t want to take the course, but I’d have to take it if that was the only choice," he said. "That’s not something that I expect here at the university. I expect a diversity of view points, but it would make it very hard to work.

"Knowing that ahead of time, I just don’t think I could function in that class."

Huber’s status as a graduate student at the university appears to be secure. But should Huber, who is not registered as an instructor for any courses this semester, be allowed to continue teaching at the university?

George Hadjipanayis, chairman of the physics and astronomy department, declined to comment on the situation.

Samantha Harris, an attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in Philadelphia, said actions comitted outside the classroom are unlikely to be found to create a hostile environment in the classroom.

"In the educational context, the Supreme Court has held that constitutionally unprotected harassment is conduct ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive’ to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment (or learning environment)," she stated in an e-mail message. "Given that this TA’s students are free to avoid listening to his band or attending white supremacist rallies where he is speaking, it is highly unlikely that his off-campus speech, directed at an entirely different audience, could create a ‘hostile learning environment’ from a legal standpoint."

According to the experts, Bob Huber has acted within his rights as a citizen of the United States of America and a member of the university community.

And, it would seem, he’s here to stay.

Schools: University of Delaware