University of Kent free speech society racism allegations investigated
A university debating society has been suspended over allegations of racism after "vile" private messages were published online.
Liberty Union at the University of Kent at Canterbury said the messages had been taken out of context and did not represent its views.
The students' union and the university are investigating the allegations.
Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said the messages contained "some really vile stuff".
Members of Liberty Union, which promotes free speech, have been accused of using racist and offensive language in online "jokes".
In one message, published in a blog by Kent Anti-Racist News, a member of the union suggested establishing a neighbourhood watch group with "cool brownshirts, cute armbands and billy clubs".
It is alleged the post referred to Hitler's Nazi militia, know as the "brownshirts".
Another message stated that "guys that use 'xx' in texts need to be put down". In a response, allegedly referencing the forced transportation of Jews during the Holocaust, one member said: "First on the trains".
Kent Anti-Racist News said the messages were leaked by a member of Liberty Union who felt uncomfortable with the tone of debate after the far-right terror attack in New Zealand, in which 50 people died.
In response to a public prayer session organised in response to the killings, one member asked: "Do Jews and Christians get to do this in the Middle East when they get attacked?"
In a statement, Liberty Union said it believes the comments were "entirely misrepresented and taken out of context".
It said they do not represent the "views and principles" of the libertarian union, which is "at complete odds with any form of racism, fascism, or anti-Semitism".
It said it asked the students' union to initiate the investigation and provided access to the messages, as it believes "the context will prove that there is no racism or malicious intent".
However, it accepted "that the jokes made are offensive and distasteful in nature" and said it had suspended the members involved until further notice.
Kent Union, which suspended the society, said it "champions inclusivity and diversity," adding that the "alleged racist comments go against everything that we stand for and believe in".
The University of Kent said it could not comment while the investigation is ongoing.