Susan Campbell
SUSAN CAMPBELL

After COVID struck, a couple of long-time married residents of Bristol replaced gym visits with walks through town. Along the way, they added trash pickup to their regimen, because they’re good citizens. On Monday’s walk, they stumbled across white supremacy recruitment flyers tossed onto driveways in the northeast part of town.

It wasn’t lost on them that the flyers were distributed on D-Day, when America’s greatest generation of antifa (anti-fascists) stormed the beaches of Normandy and helped save the world.

The New England Nationalist Social Club has been busy lately. Similar pamphlets have been distributed in West Hartford, Southington, and East Hartford, and in April the group staged a flash demonstration in downtown Hartford. Also known as NSC-131, the group is a neo-Nazi/white supremacy group whose members hate everyone but white people, and who claim to have been part of the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) says NSC members see themselves as “soldiers at war with a hostile, Jewish-controlled system that is deliberately plotting the extinction of the white race.”

Connecticut, we got the cancer.

On Tuesday, former Buffalo fire commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr., son of 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, who was shot and killed in the May 14 Tops supermarket massacre, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told senators that his mother’s life mattered, and then he said: “Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?”

This cancer never really goes away. It just goes dormant until the time seems right to again seek fealty. It operates in the dark, and so the best antidote is sunlight. When the couple found the flyers in Bristol, they contacted friends in the media, the mayor, and the town police (and suggested the group be charged with littering). The police chief, Brian Gould, emailed back to say police were aware and they are investigating. The mayor had already been contacted by the town’s department of public works, whose employees collected all the flyers they could find. Mayor Jeffrey Caggiano responded, “There is no room for hatred or divisiveness in Bristol.” 

He’s right, though someone certainly thought there was a chance of recruiting people bent on joining the wrong side.

“Above all,” the pamphlet said, “we stand for the security and prosperity of white New Englanders.” The pamphlet called the group a “pro-white, street-oriented fraternity.”

And there it is, “street-oriented,” the threat of violence, the last stance of the weak-minded.

It wasn’t lost on them that the flyers were distributed on D-Day, when America’s greatest generation of antifa (anti-fascists) stormed the beaches of Normandy and helped save the world.

According to the non-profit, Counter Extremism Project, the NSC began in Massachusetts, and it is metastasizing. They are the Klan, but armed with social media accounts, and countering their hatred will take more than police action. It will take all of us speaking up and speaking out when we see even the slightest evidence of hatred creeping up the streets, because we know that hateful words begets violence begets pain.

Sunlight really is powerful medicine. A few years ago, a man tried to burn down a mosque in Joplin, Mo. He was unsuccessful, but he returned a few weeks later when he was able to get the roof to catch fire, and the mosque was lost. 

You might not expect a mosque to exist in that troubled land, though it might not be surprising to picture a mosque burning there. I am a native. I grew up in a sundown town, where people of anything other than European heritage were encouraged to leave the premises before dark, or … well, no one had to finish that sentence.

Only here’s what happened next: People who knew nothing about Islam began turning out, starting with the casserole brigade (church ladies stepping over debris to bring sustenance to the wounded). A student at a local Christian college organized a heavily-attended fundraiser that helped the Muslims rebuild. 

The arsonist – who called himself a Christian – was arrested and jailed. No, this didn’t end racism or hate in Joplin, but it did plant a seed that there is another way to exist in the world.

A secret organization is only secret so long as its members stay mum. Someone’s going to brag, post something on social media, or in some other way identify themselves with this hateful group. So here’s what we do. We link arms. We make it our business to watch for signs of the cancer. The time for moments of silence in the wake of racism-fueled violence is long past. It is now time to make noise. Be that couple in Bristol. Be the family who provided the photo that accompanies this column. Speak up, so they can hear in the back. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

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Susan Campbell

Author of "Frog Hollow: Stories From an American Neighborhood," "Tempest Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker," and "Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl." Find more at susancampbell.substack.com.

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