Difficult talks continue in Bristol, where in June white supremacists from the New England Nationalist Social Club deposited recruitment pamphlets.
Camelia Lopez, Adam Antar, and others met on Tuesday with town officials, and they came away cautiously optimistic, Antar said.
Cornell Lewis, who has spent years in the trenches fighting for civil rights, attended the meeting, too. Lewis is the founder of Self Defense Brigade, which trains protesters to physically protect themselves from violent counter-protesters, such as, potentially, the group that is recruiting around the state. Lewis has taken some heat for that, but he grew up in an all-Black neighborhood in Detroit listening to people talk about the horrors they’d escaped down South. His neighbors were all armed – not to make trouble but to defend themselves and their families, he said.
“For me, self-defense has historical, practical, and personal implications,” Lewis said. “I have always seen guns as self-defense as part of the original Black experience.”
At previous protests, Lewis has made a point of introducing himself to counter-protesters who might turn violent, when he let them know that protesters would defend themselves. That has served as a deterrent to things escalating, he said.
Violence is always on the table when white supremacists come to town. As Antar said: “We are highly aware when Black and brown people stand up for their rights, that is enough to send some people into fits of violence and rage.”
No one wants any of that – not violence, not counter-violence – but the bad guys have shown themselves more than willing to do damage, and more racist pamphlets were distributed earlier this week in Berlin. Residents in Hartford, West Hartford, Newington, and East Hartford have also been targeted. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists look for towns that are racially mixed, and hope they stumble upon a handful of racists who will join their idiot cause. A few do.
On Tuesday, Antar and Lopez brought an anti-racism resolution to their meeting, and asked town officials to sign it. Mayor Jeff Caggiano told them he would bring it to council members. The resolution says, in part, that the town rejects “white supremacy, hatred, racism, and bigotry in all of its forms,” and that Bristol will support diversity programs and make sure residents know their rights, and know the services available to them.
The council meets again on Tuesday.
“If it fails or if the resolution is amended in a way that takes away from its spirit or strength, we will be hitting the streets,” said Antar. “We don’t take this lightly, and we are going to do something about it.”
State and local law enforcement are aware of the recruitment efforts, and the federal government has been battling home-grown terrorism since Reconstruction, when the freshly-minted Department of Justice began prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members. In June 2021, Pres. Biden released a domestic terrorism strategy that said, in part, “Domestic terrorism is both persistent and evolving.” In fact, according to the Anti-Defamation League, in the last decade, 55% of deaths caused by domestic extremists were by white supremacists. Just look at some of our recent, racially-motivated mass shootings.
This is a departure from the policies of the previous administration, which showed little interest in addressing local terrorism. Remember in 2017, a man sped his car into a crowd of counter protesters at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., and killed one woman and injured 19 other people, five of them critically. When asked about the carnage, the former president said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
No. There weren’t. Very fine people don’t ram a car into a crowd of people. Very fine people don’t chant “You will not replace us.” Very fine people don’t distribute pamphlets for a group that proposes to “stand for the security and prosperity of white New Englanders.”
For all the careful hope, Lopez said she was frustrated that the group petitioning the city government had to wait for a July meeting, and that some city officials seem less engaged because, they said, outcry from town residents has been mild. Lopez suggests that silence may come from fear.
“People are afraid of saying things for fear of retaliation,” she said. “I don’t like the assumption that people are not as concerned as [the mayor] thinks. No one comes forward because you need to gain their trust.
“If they don’t think there are outcries, then even more so I need to be that voice. I’m a resident, not part of these groups, not part of an organization. I care about these kids, and that’s it. All these people making decisions won’t be here in another 50 years, but these kids will.”