Barnard and Columbia faculty and staff have received racist robocall messages from a white supremacist group, the Office of University Life announced on Thursday. According to the statement, the office will work with the New York Police Department to investigate the incident and block the caller.
The messages, described in the statement as “abhorrent and viciously racist,” arrived in light of the ongoing investigation into the death of Tess Majors, a Barnard first-year who was fatally stabbed in Morningside Park on Dec. 11. The police identified three suspects connected to the attack: two 14-year-old boys and a 13-year-old boy who has since been charged with second-degree murder. Evidence police claim to implicate the suspects in question, including a security tape and interrogation, had not been revealed to the defense attorney or the jury at the hearing that prompted the trial of the 13-year old.
Facing difficulty locating the third suspect, NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison published images of one of the 14-year olds on his Twitter account, asking the public for help in locating the minor. On Thursday, police found him in a family member’s home. According to police, he was questioned in the presence of a lawyer and released after a few hours.
The robocall was sent to multiple Barnard and Columbia faculty on Christmas Day. According to audio obtained and verified by the New York Times, the recording featured racist epithets by an unidentified caller who criticizes Majors’ parents for allowing her to associate with black people.
The Office of University Life said that the calls were placed to landlines at both schools and that no students were believed to have received them. The statement refers anyone who has received a similar call to Columbia Public Safety.
“We condemn this racist, anti-black act in the strongest possible terms and have referred it to the N.Y.P.D.,” a Barnard spokeswoman said in a statement to the Times. “Our community stands together against hate.”
The NYPD Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism unit is currently investigating the calls.
The person behind the calls only identified himself as a member of the Road to Power, according to the Times’ review of the recording. The Road to Power, a white supremacist outlet based in Sandpoint, Idaho, has been tied to a number of racist robocalls, videos, and social media posts, particularly around divisive political campaigns.
Last November, the group was found to be responsible for calls promoting white supremacist messages following the death of a Drake University student. When an undocumented immigrant was implicated in the death of Mollie Tibbetts in August 2018, the group also sent robocalls with racist messages targeting Latinx peoples.
In a 2018 interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center, robocall expert Alex Quilici said that a robocall allows anonymous users to mass-deliver hate messages through their computer. Until recently, robocalls had not been used on a wide scale outside of political campaigns.
Last week, the REME unit assisted the Connecticut State Police with an investigation into a racist threat on Reddit made against the 13-year-old suspect. The post, which alleged that the perpetrator was a black Harlem resident, was eventually removed from the site.
“Time to exterminate the real problem,” a commenter on Reddit wrote, according to the warrant. He later added: “I’m going to search for him myself tonight. Armed and read to fire. Then the parents are next.”
The police found Trevor Spring of Mystic, Connecticut responsible for the comment. Spring was charged with second-degree threatening. He was released on a $5,000 bond and ordered to appear Jan. 3 at New London Superior Court.