The Oxford Union has found a member guilty of attempting to perform a Nazi salute at last term’s “Into the Wardrobe” ball.
The member has been suspended for two terms and fined £40 in line with Union policy forbidding conduct “liable to distress [or] offend.” The member (who is not named in the re- port in line with Union rules) is also alleged to have “engaged in goose-stepping.”
The report, by a Union Intermediate Disciplinary Committee, explains that the allegations were corroborated by an un- named member of the Union’s committee who stated “that they saw the Defendant with their arm raised at an angle 45 degrees above the horizontal.”
The initial complainant at one point referred to these gestures as being “entirely reminiscent of a Nazi salute”, although the report found that this was not fully corroborated by the evidence presented.
In addition to these allegations, the defendant also stood accused of having goose-stepped in the society’s bar prior to their alleged conduct in the marquee. However, upon examination of CCTV footage from the bar the panel found no evidence that this had taken place.
As the Defendant entered no plea the disciplinary panel “proceeded as if a ‘not guilty’ plea had been entered”. In the course of the defence, the Defendant’s representative presented evidence that the goose-stepping had taken place alongside another unnamed member after “discussing the military traditions” of the unnamed member’s country in whose military they had served.
The defendant then noted that in this unnamed country “goose-stepping continues to take place, before deciding to start goose- stepping while mimicking the tradition”.
The unnamed member claimed that he had not engaged in Nazi salutes, but had “moved his arm to five degrees above horizontal reminiscent of the [national] military’s practice of raising one’s sword while goose- stepping, and that the defendant may have done the same.”
The defendant admitted to having engaged in goose-stepping at the ball which they referred to as “juvenile”, and admitted to having been heavily intoxicated at the time, but did not admit to having engaged in conduct reminiscent of a Nazi salute.
The complainant’s representative argued that the claim that these actions were taken in the spirit of “cultural exploration” were “wildly improbable”, and argued that “there was very little evidence of remorse besides the admittance of drunken conduct.”
The panel nevertheless found that the defendant had engaged in goose-stepping whilst raising their arm at an angle of at least forty-five degrees and laughing on at least one occasion.
They concluded that: “It is more likely than not that an ordinary member would, when looking at a raised arm coupled with goose-stepping, see an allusion to the Third Reich” which the defendant himself admitted was “the most likely explanation” for such behaviour.
They also stated: “Any symbolism of Nazism, reasonably interpreted, is liable to distress and offend a right-minded member” and that “Goose-stepping in itself a symbol of Nazism, is liable to distress and offend a rational, right-minded member and is serious and improper conduct” regardless of the intention of the defendant when raising their arm.
In its concluding remarks, the panel noted: “During our hearing it became apparent that although the original complaint had been submitted against a single member, the alleged actions were of two members.
“The panel was dissatisfied with this situation.”
However, they found that the rules of the society did not enable them to extend the scope of their investigation beyond that of the original complaint, and as a result no punishment was brought against the second goose-stepping member.
The report did not rule out the possibility of a second investigation. Noting that this was the second time within a year that a case had been brought regarding conduct by an intoxicated member liable to distress or offend other members, the panel “urge[d] all members to enjoy themselves responsibly at Society events.”
Speaking to Cherwell, Union President Genevieve Athis said: “I can confirm that an Intermediate Displinary Committee did decide to fine and suspend a member that behaved extremely inappropriately at our Hilary Term Ball.
“After the incident, the member was removed from the premises by a member of the Union’s security staff.
“The complaint was brought by an ex- President on behalf of a member of the Union’s staff.
“The goose-stepping itself constitutes a breach of Rule 71 (a) (i) (1) and was deemed by the investigatory panel to be serious and improper conduct.
“It is very important that all members feel safe when they are on our premises and I think the seriousness of the punishment administered to the member in question illustrates our commitment to this.”