BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Almost a month after residents started seeing flyers from Identity Evropa, a group classified by the Anti-Defamation League as a white supremacist organization, around Bridgewater and surrounding towns, residents have been banding together to spread a message against hate and bias – and a new group called the Community Values Coalition is designed to do just that.
According to Bridgewater resident Stacey Friedlander, a member of the “Not In Our Town – Bridgewater/Raritan” Facebook group posted a photo in mid July of a utility pole near Route 202/206 and Burnt Mills Road in Bedminster with the Identity Evropa poster.
In addition, Friedlander said, several people did some research and found that the group’s Twitter feed contained pictures bragging about their coverage in the area, including at the Bridgewater Commons Mall, the Hills Shopping Center in Bedminster, the Somerville Public Library and other areas in and around Somerset and Morris counties.
According to the ADL website, Identity Evropa is a white supremacist group focused on preserving white American culture and promoting white European identity. The group, the website said, spreads its message on the Internet, and by distributing flyers, posters, banners and stickers.
The group, the ADL website said, has participated in protests against Muslims and immigration, and joined events organized by other white supremacist groups.
Several meetings were held in July for residents to discuss ways of combating hate in the area, and another was held Aug. 8 in Basking Ridge.
The Community Values Coalition, according to a release, is designed to push back against the effects of messages of hate, and to prevent attitudes that could lead to racial discrimination and oppression.
According to the release from the group, the mission of the group of non-partisan diverse citizens from around the seventh district of New Jersey is to promote safety, security, law, diversity and inclusivity in the community. The group aims to take a role in helping people see a better alternative to hate as promoted by groups like Identity Evropa.
The group is also aiming to help residents speak out about positive values they want for their communities.
Friedlander, one of the organizers of the coalition, spoke at the Aug. 8 meeting, sharing information on actions taken by the Not in Our Town Facebook Group, as well as the steps to take for reporting hate incidents.
“Attendees were given a handout that they can keep with them to remember the steps for reporting, and the contacts, including local police departments, the ADL and the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security,” she said.
Friedlander said she encouraged guests to be aware and not to be afraid of reporting any incidents.
“It takes less than a minute to snap a photo and email the photo along with a description of location and time of day to the proper reporting authorities,” she said. “Also, locally, Bridgewater PD offers an online reporting system via their website, and allows you to do so anonymously if you choose.”
Rabbi Dan Selsberg, of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, attended the meeting, and said it is important to recognize the bigotry of groups like Identity Evropa that is posting the flyers.
“Anytime a group that states that it opposes ethnic diversity, as the group behind the flyers does on its website, it is a concern because our nation and our community depend on keeping the Constitution’s promise of domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare,” he said. “Their opposition to this core principle of civil society is part of why their discriminatory ideas belong on the fringe.”
Also speaking at the meeting was Basking Ridge resident Pat Sodolak, who has been leading the charge and hosted the first meeting in July, as well as being one of the organizers of the coalition. She spoke about taking different kinds of action, including through education, awareness, government and dialogue.
“The group is a work in progress and is evolving in a positive direction very rapidly,” she said. “We continue to be encouraged by the number of people interested in denouncing these white supremacist hate flyers. Don’t be fooled by the somewhat innocuous pictures and wording - there is bigotry below the surface.”
Sodolak said there are many more people who find the hate groups abhorrent than those who are actually members of the group.
“But their voices have been louder than ours, mainly because we have been silent,” she said. “Well, that’s about to change.”
Sodolak emphasized to guests at the meeting, according to the release, that actions must be legal, peaceful, non-partisan, positive, impactful and effective. Actions can include social media engagement, encouraging individuals to report flyers and supporting the “Hate Has No Home Here” campaign by purchasing a lawn sign or car magnet.
“We have several initiatives currently in progress, educating ourselves on racism, crafting and disseminating our message that white supremacy is unacceptable in our community because it so misrepresents our shared values of safety, security, law and order, diversity and inclusivity for all residents and beginning discussions with our neighbors on how we can reaffirm who we are and who we want to be as a community,” Sodolak said.
Chester resident David Boyle, one of the organizers of the coalition, discussed with guests an idea for community discussion and dialogue. He said that the best way to respond to the spread of fear and hate is with positive statements, and positive expressions created through group discussion.
Boyle said, according to the release, that the group needs to create opportunities for people to talk positively about their communities, by going to civic groups, places of worship and community centers to lead discussions on people’s reactions to white supremacist messages. The conversations, he said in the release, need to be non-partisan and talk about community values.
In addition, Somerville resident Karen Gaffney, an instructor at Raritan Valley Community College and author of “Dismantling the Racism Machine,” talked about how residents can become more engaged in talking about racism.
As the group continues to work against messages of hate, they will be creating a Facebook group for the mission and actions, which will serve as a centralized place for people to get involved, attend meetings and become active participants.
Selsberg said that those who put up the flyers, like Identity Evropa members did, have a right to free speech, but, because of that, it is important to ensure that they are exposed.
“We live in a moment when bigotry is sadly becoming more mainstream,” he said. “My life as a rabbi makes me keenly aware of the history of what can happen when bigotry goes mainstream. I know that when people come for Muslims, or African-Americans or any other minority group that people like me won’t be too far down the list of targets.”
Although people once opposed immigrant groups like the Irish, Italians, Poles and Jews, Selsberg said, Americans now recognize that society has grown richer, stronger and better with each wave of immigration.
“Today, (these groups) use the same rhetoric against the new wave of immigrants, and hope that everyone’s memory is as short as theirs is, and we won’t see how wrong they were and how wrong they are,” he said.
For more information, or to get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are also flyers available for residents to download and post or post to social media. Residents are asked to deluge the district, posting them at train stations, libraries, gyms, churches, stores and more, as permitted.
To find the flyers, click here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/d21xpo04tnwhxzu/AADFl3oJQzvwZ_TeDmrSdUWGa?dl=0.