Other NJ News

A Fiery Year On the Banks: The Rutgers Conservative Union Finds a Voice

e51b264922200f98a76a_rucu2.jpg
The Rutgers Conservative Union tables outside Brower Commons on College Avenue. Credits: Dylan Marek
e51b264922200f98a76a_rucu2.jpg

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a five-part series on the Rutgers Conservative Union. Through that lens, TAPinto New Brunswick intends to provide a comprehensive look at an energetic year of on-campus activism at New Jersey’s flagship university. The second part is available here.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Dylan Marek went to bed an anonymous Rutgers University freshman. He woke up on March 1 to strangers calling him a white supremacist. 

As he slept, the Daily Targum, the student newspaper, published an article about the similarities between a Rutgers Conservative Union flier and one for American Vanguard, a white-nationalist organization. Marek, the Conservative Union’s founding vice-president, talked to a reporter the night before. He thought the story would boost the profile of the fledgling on-campus group, and perhaps attract some like-minded members.

Sign Up for E-News

Instead, his phone buzzed with messages from concerned friends. The piece had gone viral. “I woke up to total chaos,” Marek, who sports short hair and a matter-of-fact style of speaking, recalled. 

At first, he was angry. He felt misled by the Targum and misunderstood by his peers. The Conservative Union quickly published a Facebook post disavowing racism and any connection to American Vanguard. But that failed to prevent backlash on campus, widespread media coverage and national attention.  

Rutgers liberals reacted with anger and disgust. After all, American Vanguard fliers appeared weeks before at Latino and Muslim centers on campus, alarming the community and inspiring an outcry against white nationalism. Now, it seemed that a homegrown group had internalized those values.

“If this group represents conservatives,” a Facebook user and Rutgers student named Maaz Khan wrote of the Conservative Union, “then conservatism is utterly bankrupt morally and has no future with any decent people.”

The news story came out amid an arguably historic year for political activism at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus. 

The election of President Donald Trump nurtured regular protests from students fearful of his rhetoric and immigration policies. But his rise also empowered conservative students, whose views had remained marginalized at Rutgers until that point, to finally feel comfortable taking center stage.

So, soon enough, Marek found humor in the chaos. To him, the visceral response to the flier episode epitomized the reactionary nature of some liberals. His colleagues agreed. Nick Knight, the union’s president, wasn’t surprised when he picked up the newspaper and saw the front-page headline. “They were trying to find something that would make a good hit piece on a brand-new right-wing club at Rutgers,” he recalled thinking. “And they got it.”

Nick Knight (left), president of the Rutgers Conservative Union, participates in a counter-protest in late January.

Was the design of the flier a mistake? “I guess you can call it that,” Marek later said. Conservative Union members said they stumbled across a boilerplate template that, it turned out, had also been adopted by the white-nationalist faction. 

But some of the language was identical. Two examples: “TAKE YOUR COUNTRY BACK!” and “Is this the country your ancestors died for?” Months later, Marek told TAPinto New Brunswick that his Rutgers group had indeed encountered the American Vanguard flier earlier, but members aimed to scrub it and write their own message.

Despite feeling like they wrongly received a reputation as the campus racists, Marek and his club refused to back down. 

“If you’re out there at Rutgers University on College Avenue Campus wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats, you’ve got guts. You’re not going into Afghanistan, but you are putting yourself in harm’s way,” he said. “But maybe I will get one person who sees what I’m doing and feels better about expressing what he thinks.”

All of a sudden, activists on the left and right knew of the Rutgers Conservative Union. But the incident wouldn’t be the final time they muttered its name.

The second part of this series will run tonight, June 13.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

Franklin Township

Reduce Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

April 25, 2018

Morristown Medical Center’s Carol G. Simon Cancer Center presents “Protecting Your Colorectal Health” on Tuesday, May 1 from 6:00 to 8:00pm at the Morristown Medical Center Health Pavilion, 333 Mount Hope Avenue in Rockaway. Admission is free.

This popular, educational program presents an opportunity to hear up-to-date presentations from leading ...

East Brunswick's Rachelle Francois Missing Since Friday

April 25, 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rachelle Francois is a missing and endangered person from East Brunswick.

She was released from Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, NY on Friday, April 20, 2018 around noon.

Francois was placed in a taxi cab by the hospital and then went to an unknown address in Elizabeth, not to her home in East Brunswick.

Ms. Francois requires medications, and it is believed ...

Piscataway Officials Announce Plans to Build New Community Center

PISCATAWAY, NJ – Piscataway residents and visitors can now look forward to swimming laps, shooting hoops and showing their creativity in a central gathering space as plans are under way to build a new community center in town.

Piscataway officials announced on Monday that construction is expected to begin at the end of the year on a center that will include three swimming pools, a ...

Kurt Steiner, a Holocaust Survivor, tells Life Story as 106th Birthday Draws Near

CRANFORD, NJ – In a quaint white house near the border of Cranford and Garwood, 105-year-old Kurt Steiner sat at his dining room table, surrounded by cabinets that held his collection of Viennese glass and antique Limoge plates. At his table, he had his carefully taped together passport and exit papers from Vienna, Austria, stamped with a large “J” and “Jude,” the ...

New Brunswick: Water Department workers guilty in scheme costing city $500,000

NEW BRUNSWICK – Two city Water Department employees have pleaded guilty to charges of falsely reducing water to about 50 different properties in exchange for bribes, costing the city about $500,000, state officials announced.

Joseph “Gordo” DeBonis, 55 of Toms River, a suspended senior account clerk, and William “Billi” Ortiz, 56, of North Brunswick, a meter ...

Police Investigate Bias Incident in Montgomery, Seek Help from Public

MONTGOMERY, NJ - Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson and township Police Director/Capt. Thomas Wain are asking the public for help in the investigation of what is being considered a bias crime.

Detectives assigned to the investigation released that the following information based on the preliminary and ongoing investigation, which continues to evolve as investigators interview ...

Area Rotary Club Fair: Fun Place to Do Business

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - The Rotary Club of Hillsborough will provide local businesses multiple opportunities to showcase their services and connect directly with customers at its 11th annual Rotary Fair, scheduled this year for Aug. 14–19.

More than 15,000 people from Hillsborough and surrounding communities are expected to visit the weeklong family event held at the Hillsborough Promenade, ...

East Brunswick's Rachelle Francois Missing Since Friday

April 25, 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rachelle Francois is a missing and endangered person from East Brunswick.

She was released from Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, NY on Friday, April 20, 2018 around noon.

Francois was placed in a taxi cab by the hospital and then went to an unknown address in Elizabeth, not to her home in East Brunswick.

Ms. Francois requires medications, and it is believed ...

Piscataway Officials Announce Plans to Build New Community Center

PISCATAWAY, NJ – Piscataway residents and visitors can now look forward to swimming laps, shooting hoops and showing their creativity in a central gathering space as plans are under way to build a new community center in town.

Piscataway officials announced on Monday that construction is expected to begin at the end of the year on a center that will include three swimming pools, a ...

Kurt Steiner, a Holocaust Survivor, tells Life Story as 106th Birthday Draws Near

CRANFORD, NJ – In a quaint white house near the border of Cranford and Garwood, 105-year-old Kurt Steiner sat at his dining room table, surrounded by cabinets that held his collection of Viennese glass and antique Limoge plates. At his table, he had his carefully taped together passport and exit papers from Vienna, Austria, stamped with a large “J” and “Jude,” the ...

New DMV Facility in South Plainfield Should Ease Crunch in Somerville

April 23, 2018

SOMERVILLE, NJ  - B. Sue Fulton is just beginning to find her away around her new office in Trenton , but the newly-sworn director of the Department of Motor Vehicles found her way to Somerville Saturday at the invitation of state Sen. Christopher Kip Bateman for a visit to the local DMV office on Roosevelt Place which has been causing headaches for neighborhood residents.

She arrived 45 ...

Somerset County Town to Close Library

WATCHUNG, NJ  - The Watchung Borough Council voted on Thursday night, before packed chambers and over 500 watching on Facebook live,  to close the Watchung Library and explore redevelopment of the library site on Stirling Road.

After years of discussion and debate, the council decided not to renovate the existing library or construct a new library. Mayor Stephen Pote ...

Somerset Resident Wins Gold at the 2018 New Jersey SkillsUSA Championships

BRIDGEWATER, NJ – On April 14, Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School students competed against other career and technical education students from around the state at the 2018 New Jersey SkillsUSA Championships. 

Out of the 94 students from SCVTHS who competed, 63 received medals including 27 gold.  The gold medal winners are now eligible to test their skills in ...

New DMV Facility in South Plainfield Should Ease Crunch in Somerville

April 23, 2018

SOMERVILLE, NJ  - B. Sue Fulton is just beginning to find her away around her new office in Trenton , but the newly-sworn director of the Department of Motor Vehicles found her way to Somerville Saturday at the invitation of state Sen. Christopher Kip Bateman for a visit to the local DMV office on Roosevelt Place which has been causing headaches for neighborhood residents.

She arrived 45 ...

Somerset County Town to Close Library

WATCHUNG, NJ  - The Watchung Borough Council voted on Thursday night, before packed chambers and over 500 watching on Facebook live,  to close the Watchung Library and explore redevelopment of the library site on Stirling Road.

After years of discussion and debate, the council decided not to renovate the existing library or construct a new library. Mayor Stephen Pote ...