BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Less than a week after fliers were seen in Bridgewater and the surrounding areas promoting Identity Evropa, which the Anti-Defamation League has labeled a white supremacist group, We the People held a meeting Wednesday to discuss how local residents can spread the message against hate and bias.
Bridgewater residents Alexis Ryan and Valerie Pierce, who attended Wednesday's meeting – and who are members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills, which hosted a meeting Monday to make fliers against the white supremacist group – said the meeting was well-attended with speakers from a number of different organizations.
It was a follow-up to a May meeting, Ryan said, that was organized by the NJ chapter of We the People and the Hunterdon County Anti-Racism Coalition.
We the People is an organization in the seventh district designed to advocate for progressive causes and promote Democratic values.
"Due to the upsurge in hate flyer activity, they invited speakers from the Anti-Defamation League, the Department of Homeland Security and the state Attorney General's office," Ryan said. "It was attended by approximately 40 people with Q&A, and lively, productive discussion."
According to Bridgewater resident Stacey Friedlander, a member of the “Not In Our Town – Bridgewater/Raritan” Facebook group posted a photo Saturday 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 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 fliers, 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.
A first event was held Monday evening at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills, where about 20 local residents chose locations to post their own fliers about reporting hate crime incidents, while also discussing contacting local officials about taking a public stand against bias and hate incidents in the area.
During the meeting, Karen Gaffney, professor at Raritan Valley Community College and the author of “Dismantling the Racism Machine,” said this is a pattern of activity happening across the state, including similar neo-Nazi recruitment efforts in Princeton, Hillsborough and Morristown.
Ryan said that information was provided at the Wednesday meeting about different groups, the way they operate and education about laws, including First Amendment rights, plus what crosses into criminal activity.
"The speakers universally emphasized the importance of the public reporting fliers and any kind of hate or bias incidents to local law enforcement and to groups that track hate incidents, such as the ADL," she said.
Ryan said there have been about 15 incidents of neo-Nazi groups recruiting on college campuses in New Jersey in the past few years.
"White supremacist groups are feeling increasingly emboldened to recruit in high-traffic areas in New Jersey towns," she said. "The speakers emphasized that even so, these groups represent only a tiny fraction of New Jerseyans so it is important that those of us who disagree with their message speak up and make our opinions known."
The next steps, Ryan said, will be related to a new initiative through the New Jersey Attorney General's office, 21/21, and there will be community meetings being held on bias.
The Attorney General has asked the 21 county prosecutors to organize quarterly public events regarding issues relevant to community policing in an effort to strengthen relationships between law enforcement officers and communities. One of the quarters will focus on bias crimes.
Police have also advised residents who see the fliers around town to leave them where they are until police arrive, and the Office of the Attorney General of the State of NJ has said that anyone who finds hate literature should report it to local police.
"Hate is a learned behavior so we should work extra hard to teach our children empathy and inclusion," Ryan said. "We are a welcoming community and, from a place of love, we need to let these people who have hate in their hearts know that this is not OK. We should not normalize hate."