A UW-Madison student who stirred up outrage on campus Tuesday by distributing flyers denouncing “anti-white racism” committed two racially motivated crimes.
Daniel Dropik, the founder of the controversial Madison American Freedom Party, pleaded guilty to two counts of “racially motivated arson” in 2006 after setting fire to two primarily black churches the year before, according to a U.S. Court of Appeals document.
On April 16, 2005, Dropik started a fire that caused $850 worth of damage to a Baptist Church in Milwaukee, according to a 2006 Capital Times article. The next day, he set ablaze a Methodist Episcopal church in Lansing, Mich., causing about $39,000 of damages. Both churches’ congregations were predominantly black.
The judge in the case said Dropik, then a resident of Oconomowoc, had “deep psychological and psychiatric problems,” according to the article.
The Southern Poverty Law Center highlighted the crimes in their list of “hate incidents.”
Dropik, then 23-years-old, was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 63 months imprisonment and two concurrent three-year terms of supervised release for the crimes, according to the court document.
In posts on the question-and-answer website Quora, Dropik admitted to committing the crimes and writes about his experience in federal prison.
“In 2005 I started fires to African American churches, citing racism as the reason for my actions,” Dropik wrote in one post. “I admitted guilt, and served nearly five years.”
In a separate biography from 2012 on the website causes.com, Dropik details his decision to go on the “interstate arson spree.”
“I targeted African American churches, because it was controversial and may lead to a ‘suicide by cop’ scenario,” Dropik writes in the post.
He goes on to describe his history of mental health issues and his experiences with sexual violence while in prison. He also expresses regret for his “destructive decisions.”
Dropik’s now-deleted Quora profile describes him as a “Web Developer and Computer Science Student” who was born and raised in Wisconsin and is accompanied by a photo showing his face.
It also says he is “strongly in favor of religious and racial tolerance.”
The 33-year-old, who describes himself as a “freethinker” and “race-relations innovator” on his website, gained prominence on campus Tuesday after his organization, the Madison American Freedom Party, distributed flyers to students urging them to combat “anti-white racism.”
Students were quick to denounce Dropik and his organization. One student said Dropik’s flyers were a “dangerous attempt to victimize those who are born with systematic white privilege.”
“Anti-white racism does not exist in American society period,” UW-Madison student Dane Skaar wrote in one Facebook response to the flyers that has been shared over 500 times. “This is not a political view; this is a fundamental fact.”
Currently, Dropik is a student employee at UW-Madison, where he works for the university as a software trainer and studies computer science, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Dropik earned an associate degree from the UW-Waukesha in 2013, two years after he was released from federal prison.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement Thursday she was “appalled” to learn of Dropik’s past.
“The safety of our campus community is my top priority. I recognize the mere presence of this activity is concerning,” Blank said. “The student claims to be affiliated with the American Freedom Party, a recognized hate group. Its activities are diametrically opposed to our campus values of respect and inclusion.”
Blank said the university does not have any information that suggests a “specific safety threat.”
“Handing out political information and expressing objectionable, even hateful, viewpoints is not illegal nor a violation of any campus policy,” Blank said.
Blank also said the university does not take criminal history into account during the admissions process.
Dropik addressed Blank's statement in an audio recording posted on the Madison American Freedom Party website Thursday night.
"I regret these violent and wrong acts," Dropik said, after confirming that he committed the crimes. "For those on campus who are just learning about this, who may feel discouraged or sad or hurt ... I am sorry."
Dropik also asked the public to consider some facts that Blank did not mention, including that he was severely mentally ill at the time he committed the crimes.
He said that since the crimes, the time he spent in federal prison was a "transformative" experience for him, and even helped him "change some of [his] stereotypes about racial minorities."
"Living in prison for a long time, you get to know people of different kinds," he said. "It was actually a very positive thing."
Dropik went on to say that he disagreed with Blank's characterization of the Madison American Freedom Party as a hate group, but that she was correct to say that he presents no threat to the campus community.
"There [are] no worries about any kind of harm coming from me or any group that I have authority over," Dropik said.
UPDATE Jan. 26, 8:09 p.m.: This article was updated to include Daniel Dropik's comments.