MADISON, Wis. - A University Wisconsin-Madison student who is trying to start a white nationalist movement on campus says he regrets his arson conviction and says his efforts on campus are not based on racial hatred.
Daniel Dropik, 33, pleaded guilty to arson charges after starting fires at two churches with predominantly black congregations -- one in Milwaukee and the other in Michigan -- in 2005.
He was sentenced to 5 years and 3 months in federal prison.
In an audio statement released Friday, Dropik acknowledged the conviction and apologized.
"I’ve regretted these, long before I ever decided to be a student at UW-Madison, and I’ve regretted this, long before I’ve ever decided to have an interest in the 'alt-right,'" he said. "And for those on campus who are just learning about this, who may feel discouraged or sad or hurt, I want to tell you that I’m sorry. This was wrong."
A fire on April 16 caused approximately $1,000 damage to the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee. Another fire the next day caused $5,000 damage to the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lansing, Michigan.
According to court documents, Dropik set the fires as racial retaliation for prior encounters with African-Americans not related to either church. According to the documents, Dropik set the fires after he was allegedly beaten up by several black men at a party near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Dropik said he was mentally ill during the time of the crimes, and accepts responsibility for the crimes. He said his time in prison changed some of his stereotypes about racial minorities.
"It was actually a very positive thing and helped me grow in that way," he said.
He also said that at the time of the crimes he was not affiliated with any white nationalist groups.
UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank addressed the findings Thursday with the campus.
"I have also become aware that he was convicted in 2005 of racially motivated arsons of two African-American churches. I am appalled by attacks on churches and by organizations that express hatred of people of color, Jews, Muslims or any other identity," Blank said in the statement.
Blank said the University System’s admission application does not ask about students’ criminal history as a part of the admission process. Blank said she now plans to review the policy.
"In light of this situation, I will request that the Board of Regents consider a review of this policy," she said. "The safety of our campus community is my top priority. I recognize the mere presence of this activity is concerning. But handing out political information and expressing objectionable, even hateful, viewpoints is not illegal nor a violation of any campus policy," Blank said.
Blank said the university has no information to suggest there is any specific threat to individuals or the campus.
Dropik said that despite his past and his work with the club, his activities are not based on any racial hatred.
"The important thing to remember is that me as an individual, in spite of my past, and that my activities with this club right now, that neither one of these are centered on racial hatred, or desire to do harm to other people based on their racial and ethnic backgrounds," he said.
He said Blank is correct that he poses no threat to the campus.
UW officials also confirm Dropik is an hourly employee at the university.
The Student Coalition for Progress will be holding a demonstration against the alt-right Tuesday at 5 p.m. on Bascom Hill.
“We call on members of the UW campus community, the Madison community and anyone else concerned about the rise of white supremacist groups growing on campus to join us for a mass demonstration” organizers said in an email to News 3.