MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A University of Wisconsin student trying to form a pro-white group has abandoned his efforts after intense backlash from other students and university officials.
American Freedom Party National Chairman William Johnson confirmed Monday that Daniel Dropik is no longer forming a Madison chapter after an Associated Press reporter noticed the group's website had been made private. The American Freedom Party has deep ties to white supremacism, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
Johnson says Dropik, 33, also plans to take a break from his coursework under an arrangement he hopes to make with the university. UW spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said Dropik, a computer science student, is currently still enrolled.
Dropik did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment. He previously said Johnson would speak on his behalf.
Dropik earlier told the AP he started the group after feeling the university had gone overboard in supporting nonwhite students and promoting cultural diversity.
Hundreds of students protested last week after it came out late last month that Dropik spent five years in federal prison for setting fire to two predominantly black churches in Wisconsin and Michigan a decade ago. After the news that Dropik was forming the group came out, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said that university officials were monitoring Dropik and were not aware of any safety threats, but student leaders said Blank's response was the latest in a string of weak responses to racist incidents on campus.
Protest organizer Kat Kerwin said her group, the Student Coalition for Progress, is "cautiously optimistic" about Dropik's decision to abandon his plans.
"While we view this as a triumph of deliberate democracy and community action over hate and selfishness, we recognize how much work remains to be done," she said.
Dropik's past set off a debate over whether the university should take criminal history into account during admissions. Blank asked System President Ray Cross to revisit the system's policy against it.
But the Student Coalition for Progress and student government representatives sharply criticized requiring applicants to disclose criminal records, saying it would unfairly affect students of color. Wisconsin League of Women Voters Executive Director Andrea Kaminski also cautioned against it last week, saying ex-offenders should have a full restoration of their rights.
Johnson said he knew Dropik's crimes against black churches could reflect poorly on his group's agenda but concluded Dropik had served sufficient time in prison and showed remorse.
"I agree with the League of Women Voters," he said, adding that he encouraged Dropik to continue forming his group but that Dropik feared for his safety.
Johnson has said that Donald Trump's presidency has made "fertile ground" for his group's recruiting efforts.
"When people hear you're a nationalist, they used to say, 'Oh, you're like Mussolini?' Now they say, 'Oh, you're like Donald Trump,'" he said then.
Dropik had said about a dozen students and community members expressed interest in joining his group. Johnson said he asked Dropik to send their names so he could connect them to the national party but hasn't received any names yet.
Republican state Sen. Stephen Nass of Whitewater has frequently accused the university system of stifling unpopular viewpoints on campus. His spokesman Mike Mikalsen said while Nass disagrees with many of Dropik's views, the university community unfairly targeted Dropik.
"Individuals who have alternative viewpoints have a right to express themselves in a university," Mikalsen said. "That did not happen here."