'White pride' group allowed stall at Auckland Uni O-Week

The leader of an Auckland University club that's been labelled a white pride group says it's a coincidence his group used a Nazi slogan on its Facebook page.

The Auckland University European Students Association (AUESA) says it is a "non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of European culture on campus".

It will have a stall at next week's O-Week celebrations to mark the start of the academic year.

"We are open to people of all beliefs and nationalities, and our group is strictly apolitical," its Facebook page reads.

Last week the group uploaded a photo of a painting called 'The Proclamation of the German Empire', accompanied by the phrase "our pride is our honour and loyalty" - an English translation of the motto used by the Nazi paramilitary organisation Shutzstaffel, better known as the SS: "My honour is called loyalty."

The Nazi-esque quote and painting (Facebook/supplied)
The Nazi-esque quote and painting (Facebook/supplied)

"I personally thought up that quote myself," the club's president told Newshub, on the condition his real name was not used.

"To my knowledge it was completely original. I thought it sounded bold, I thought it sounded strong. Looking back on it, maybe it looked a little bit too intense for some people."

The quote was removed from the Facebook page around midday Thursday.

"There was no evil intention in it at all," the club president said. "I had no idea there was a similar Nazi quote."

AUESA's logo features a Celtic design - a motif often used by white supremacist groups - and the phrase "strength through honour", but despite complaints flooding social media, won't be changing either.

The AUESA logo (Facebook/supplied)
The club's logo (Facebook/supplied)

"We're not going to apologise for promoting our culture. If anyone is offended by Celtic culture or British culture, there's nothing we can do about it. You'll just have to be offended."

'No evidence' of racism

In a statement, the University of Auckland said AUESA hadn't done anything wrong.

"We have no evidence there is any form of discrimination or racism," the university said in a statement, adding that it's "normal practice to allow new clubs to attend Clubs Expo, so they don't miss out on the opportunity to promote their club and sign up members".

AUESA is not yet formally associated with the Auckland University Students' Association, but has applied. Students get to vote on whether to accept the club in the second week of the university semester.

"Their on-paper mission is to promote participation and awareness of European cultures and identities, but a lot of the rhetoric the club uses, as well as images and material they post, are very strongly indicative of a highly nationalist or white pride group," Will Matthews, president of the Auckland University Students Association, told Newshub.

"We at AUSA understand and want to preserve the importance of free speech on campus, but we also know it's important to balance that with the importance of having a tolerant and accepting campus, where students don't feel persecuted."

Despite their denials, Mr Matthews says evidence of the group's ill intentions is right there on its Facebook page.

"The presence of this iconography and imagery is immediately offensive to certain groups of students - especially considering the large amount of history behind some of those slogans and iconography, but also just the times that we are living in now, where nationalism and nationalist feeling is on the rise across the world.

"Certain groups are finding themselves under duress, and we just want to make sure that does not happen at Auckland University as well."

European-themed 'fun'

Rather than spread hate, the group's president told Newshub it wants to organise activities like "hiking, camping or snorkelling trips".

"We're going to have several European-themed events revolving around things like camping and hiking and that sort of stuff. It's really not a serious organisation - it's just a bit of fun, really."

Close watch

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says she will be keeping an eye on the group.

"I am a Kiwi with European heritage and I'm very proud of my Irish roots - but being proud of my heritage doesn't mean limiting the rights of anyone else," Dame Susan tweeted.

Not the first

If it gets the thumbs-up from the student body, AUESA won't be the first group to cause controversy at the University of Auckland. In 2012 complaints were laid against Pro-Life, an anti-abortion group accused of distributing misleading health information.

In a fiery meeting in the university quad, AUSA members voted to keep Pro-Life affiliated to the association.