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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Signs from white supremacist group raise concerns in Ledyard

    Ledyard ― The appearance of signs promoting the white supremacist group Patriot Front here has sparked concern among residents and calls by some for a more vocal and unified response by town leaders against hate speech.

    The signs showed up at the end of June on utility poles along Route 12 in Ledyard and Preston promoting the group’s website with seemingly innocuous and patriotic messages such as “Reclaim America,” and “Strong Families, Strong Nations.”

    Contrary to the ambiguous messaging on the signs, the group’s members maintain that their ancestors -- white men -- conquered America and bequeathed it to them and no one else, said Stacey Sobel, the Connecticut regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

    She added the group is able to justify an ideology of hate and intolerance “under the guise of preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of its members’ European ancestors.”

    The signs have cropped up in nearly two dozen towns and cities in Connecticut over the last month, Sobel said. The ADL tracks hate incidents through reporting by residents. The signs themselves are not always considered hate crimes unless they have explicit language, which the ones in Ledyard do not.

    Patriot Front is already responsible for 80% of white supremacist propaganda distributed throughout the country and is active in Connecticut of late, Sobel said.

    “I think they really upped the signage over the Fourth of July with these patriotic-looking signs,” Sobel said.

    The signs are used as a recruiting tool, Sobel said, and Patriot Front is an offshoot of Vanguard America, whose members were involved in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where a man who identified as a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one woman.

    There were 207 reported hate incidents in Connecticut in 2022, a 115% increase from the 96 incidents reported in 2021, the ADL reports. While Connecticut is the 29th most populous state, it ranks ninth with the number of reported hate incidents in the country, Sobel said.

    On its website, the group states “Our people, born to this nation of our European race, must reforge themselves as a new collective capable of asserting our right to cultural independence. The LIFE of this nation, unique among all others, will be defended.”

    On July 2, a large group of Patriot Front members marched through downtown Boston, stopping for speeches and to hand out flyers. Almost all of the marchers wore head coverings that concealed their faces as they typically do when appearing in public.

    Chris Glacken of Gales Ferry, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, noticed and removed two of the signs as soon as he saw them. He and his wife, Nicole Cruz-Glacken, who is multi-racial and previously ran for Town Council, spoke at a June 28 Town Council meeting, calling for a quick and unified stance with a message that “this rhetoric will not be tolerated in Ledyard,” Glacken said.

    “I think they’re testing the waters to see what they can get away with,” Glacken, said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

    Glacken said while there are some who will say that the town doesn’t have these type of issues, they would be wrong.

    “It is an issue. It’s a nationwide issue. It’s a Connecticut issue. It’s a Ledyard issue and leaders cannot be quiet about it,” he said at the council meeting.

    Glacken, at the council meeting, also highlighted incidents in town over the past two years that he said show a lack of response that invites “this stuff to happen.”

    Glacken questioned why more town leaders didn’t come out to support the Ledyard High School girls’ basketball team after a racist slur was aimed at one of the players last year. He said a member of the Town Council suggested there should be a “counter to social justice” and that it should be part of the training for school staff.

    Glacken also pointed out that one resident nominated to the Planning & Zoning Commission had social media posts with references to far-right militia groups Oath Keepers and Three Percenters and used a Muslim Skull Crusher as a profile picture. In another incident, Glacken said his wife was labeled a “cop hater,” for questioning the way money was spent by the police department.

    Cruz-Glacken held up two of the Patriot Front signs at the June 28 Town Council meeting, asking “when people who look like me don’t feel safe in the community, does that matter?”

    Council members, at the meeting, spoke out against the signs and discrimination in general.

    The Ledyard Democratic Town Committee issued a statement on June 29 condemning the hate speech it said Patriot Front represents and chastising some town officials for not doing more.

    “These signs, and the groups they represent, have no place in Ledyard,” the statement from the Democratic Town Committee Chairman Wendy Hellekson said.

    “The easiest thing to do is to make a statement that this is not the kind of place Ledyard is. It was alarming to us they felt they could put the signs up in Ledyard. That’s certainly not something towns should be accepting. We would look to the town government to make a stronger statement. My understanding is if you give a group like this an inch they will take a mile,” Hellekson said Wednesday.

    Ledyard Police Chief John Rich said one resident reported finding and removing the signs on June 26. He said a report was taken and the state police hate crimes unit was notified.

    “In general, we like to be notified of anything overtly white supremacist.That would be of concern to us,” Rich said.

    The nature of the material would determine what police can do, he said.

    Sobel said the ADL asks that anyone who spots a message of hate or from a hate group to take photos, report it to law enforcement and to the ADL. She said it is important to keep track of where these groups are taking action to be able to inform public policy.

    The Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CT), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the signs.

    “White supremacists and bigots of all types are unfortunately spreading their hate-filled message in Connecticut and nationwide,” CAIR-Connecticut Chair Farhan Memon said in the statement. “People of all backgrounds in our state must stand up against this and all forms of bigotry.”

    He said Washington, D.C.-based CAIR and the American Muslim community stand in solidarity with all those challenging antisemitism, systemic anti-Black racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and all other forms of bigotry.

    g.smith@theday.com

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