White supremacists have been trying to recruit new members in Connecticut, and we need some ground rules.
As town officials in Newington, West Hartford, Bristol, East Hartford, and elsewhere are seeing these groups try to make inroads, it’s understandable if town officials are at a loss as to what to do.
No. I’m lying. It’s not understandable, particularly if town officials are paying attention to their constituents – all of them. There are people in town who have felt racism’s sting. Because Connecticut’s town leaders are overwhelmingly white, those constituents can guide them through. But for starters:
Rule No. 1: Do not ignore Nazis, neo- or otherwise. For such evil, silence implies welcome.
Rule No. 2: Condemn racists in the strongest possible language, and not just in the press. Take to social media. Share your disgust in every speech you give, whether to senior citizens or champion wrestlers.
Rule No. 3: Be prepared to hold meetings – a lot of them. If you haven’t already, seek out people who are most vulnerable should the white supremacists grow their numbers (see above). Ask their advice, and follow it. White supremacists need to see they are sowing seeds on thorny ground.
Rule No. 4: Failure to act will tarnish the town’s reputation more than you imagine. These groups target towns that are racially mixed, and they hope their message of fear and isolation find receptive audiences among the more ignorant white residents.
Earlier this month, members of the New England Nationalist Social Club went to Bristol – as they did West Hartford, East Hartford, and Southington, among other towns – to distribute recruitment pamphlets. The pamphlets identified the club as a “pro-white, street-oriented fraternity” and said, “We are a social club of nationalists from New England focused on building a network of likeminded [sic] men & women dedicated to defending their lands and their people.”
The group has been making itself known throughout New England, including at an April flash demonstration in downtown Hartford (away from residents who might have something to say about them).
Earlier this month, Bristol residents found flyers scattered around their streets and driveways. Camelia Lopez’s brother found one on his way home from school, in the neighborhood where the family has lived for decades.
Lopez moved back to Bristol after Emerson College, where she studied theater, because, she said, she loves the town. Lopez hates politics, but this incident – and what she considers her town leadership’s tepid response – moved her to speak at a recent city council meeting. There, she said, “I praise the city all the time to people. This is making me feel scared. And I know families are, too. They don’t feel represented.”
She asked for a plan. Other residents have suggested town forums.
Adam Antar, Lopez’s friend and a lifelong resident, also spoke at the meeting, and he and Lopez met with the mayor late last week (Lopez met virtually). Another meeting is planned after the Fourth, but that won’t be enough, Antar said. He said the mayor’s response was “bland and insufficient.”
“The idea of not wanting to draw attention to it is upholding the status quo,” he said. “We are sitting here today, trying to get cops to stop shooting Black people.”
Bristol Mayor Jeff Caggiano did not respond to requests for comment. I don’t necessarily see that as sinister, but as a town charter revision committee discusses whether to change the mayor’s term from two years to four, if I had to add a Rule 5, it would be: Ignoring the press won’t make the press go away.
“We are dealing with Tucker Carlson talking about replacement theory, and Nazis chanting, ‘You will not replace us’,” said Antar. “Honestly, if anyone took more than two seconds to think about it, it’s clear as day, understanding what’s happening.”
The neo-Nazis are emboldened. They’re also, say people who watch this kind of hate, relatively few in numbers. There can be no hesitation, no couching of phrases, no hoping they will pack up and leave They won’t. On some level, these knuckle-draggers think they have a shot at recruiting more people to their hateful cause. Town leadership around the state must show them they’re wrong.