The faculty adviser for an Arizona State University conservative student club said he felt “disappointed" by offensive comments made by the group’s leaders in private Facebook chats.
ASU opened an investigation of College Republicans United (CRU) — an offshoot of the university's College Republicans chapter — after New Times published chats by its members including anti-Semitic symbols, discussion of eugenics for disabled people, and a reference to a black rapper as "degenerate monkey filth."
In addition, a photo surfaced of two group members appears to be mocking the 2017 vehicular murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia. This all comes more than five months after the student-run State Press had published a story detailing offensive tweets from the group's founder, Richard Thomas.
Charles Loftus, an ASU criminology professor who was fired as security chief for the Arizona Department of Economic Security along with the agency's former director, Tim Jeffries, in 2016, has served as CRU's faculty adviser since spring 2018. The group reached out to him after several students heard him speak during his failed state Senate campaign.
Loftus said he found the content of the chats to be "alarming," but that he needs to do further investigation before making a decision on whether he wants to remain CRU's advisor.
"If they’re making mistakes, you have to point them in the right direction," Loftus said, referring to the students who participated in the chats. "There are also things I can do. I can resign as a faculty adviser."
If Loftus steps down, CRU would need to find a new adviser, as all student organizations are required to have an one.
"You have to give these kids the opportunity to make sure the picture — the profile being seen — is accurate," Loftus said. "I have a duty to the university and myself to do my due diligence and see what the responsibilities are and to see what the truth is."
Loftus referred to his personal experience. "I’ve been accused of things wrongly and it took a year for the true story to come out," he said.
While serving as former DES director Tim Jeffries' security adviser, Loftus purchased dozens of handguns and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition for the department and then stored some of the weapons haphazardly. The stockpiling was part of an effort by Jeffries in 2016 to build a department police force over growing fears of Islamic terrorism.
A 2017 audit by the Department of Public Safety found that Loftus' purchases were "excessive" and violated policies, but further information, including a separate audit in 2018, disputed that finding, showing the purchases were proper and not excessive for the stated purpose. Loftus has sued Arizona over the first audit, claiming libel. His lawsuit is pending.
A former police officer, Loftus said he plans to speak with CRU's leadership about the leaked chats.
He said he could make two interpretations of a photograph in which CRU leaders appear to be mocking the Charlottesville murder.
"It could go two ways. It was around Halloween, so that might be some Halloween costumes in poor taste, like blackface," he said. "Or it could be an individual’s views. Who knows?"
In one of the photos, Thomas can be seen standing in front of a Dodge Challenger (the vehicle that killed Heyer) while holding a tiki torch in one hand and a gallon of milk in the other. In the other photo, CRU vice chairman Cody Freidland also holds a tiki torch and a milk jug.
As CRU did in a statement prior to the publication of its leaked chats, Loftus noted that Freidland is Jewish.
"That he subscribes into Nazism and that type of malarkey, it's just ludicrous," he said. "Although stranger things have happened. Look at Senator [Bernie] Sanders. He’s Jewish and he doesn’t care for Israel much."
Loftus said he does not agree with the content of the chats, but the chats themselves do not prove that CRU members hold the views expressed therein.
"The words don’t always meet the actions," he said. "It’s really hard to judge what’s in someone’s heart. As a faculty adviser, I am quite disappointed in some of these comments. In the meetings I’ve gone to, it’s always been respectful and inclusive of everyone."
He said he read the New Times article on the chats on Friday evening, but missed a passage detailing a member's rationale for having Candace Owens, a black conservative, in his Facebook profile picture.
Kevin Decuyper, chairman of CRU's umbrella organization, Republicans United, participated in a discussion on Facebook in which someone asked him "What's with the nigger in your profile picture?" Decuyper responded that he chose a photo posing with Owens to "to have the support of the right wing community who thankfully don't know my more extreme views."
Loftus said he would review Decuyper's post. "If we have a group of individuals that are falsely portraying themselves, that’s alarming," he said.
He noted that the students who compiled the chats and photos were former CRU members who either left the group or were kicked out over disagreements. Loftus said he'll take into account the motivations of the former members who collected the screenshots, making a comparison to working with a criminal informant.
"Are they are a good citizen stepping forward or are they just doing a counter punch?" he said.
CRU leaders called for a meeting on Monday evening to discuss the leaked chats and take questions and concerns from members. Loftus said he cannot attend, due to a prior engagement.