BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Residents of Bridgewater, Somerville, Morristown and surrounding communities are mobilizing for action after they found posters around town promoting Identity Evropa, which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has labeled a white supremacist group.
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.
“This was our first knowledge that it was here,” she said. “Shortly after that, reports came in to us that there were also pamphlets and flyers found on cars, and in and around the Bridgewater mall last week as well.”
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 County.
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.
“We began mobilizing through social media, and were able to round up some organizers who have held events in the past,” Friedlander said.
The 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 flyers 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.
The second event will be held by Pat Sodolak, of We The People NJ-07, Wednesday at 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, on South Finley Avenue in Basking Ridge. It will focus on strategizing ways to respond and create a response guide.
This meeting is a follow-up to one in May, and members of the Hunterdon County Anti-Racism Coalition have also been invited.
Many residents have expressed their desire to speak out against this kind of incident in the area.
“There is no place for hate crimes like this in our communities,” said Chief Tim Pino (Ret.), of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office. “In fact, once these cowards are caught by law enforcement, I personally feel it’s time to send a strong message by having them return to these crime scenes in the middle of the day time, as part of a correctional inmate clean up crew, to clean up garbage on the ground.”
In the meantime, Friedlander said, many residents submitted tickets to the ADL about the posters.
“The ADL rep reached out to all of us, but asked to speak with me at a greater length so that he could help participate,” she said. “We were given advice and told they would help provide guidance and assistance, but that the community would ultimately lead the charge.”
“I know they were in touch with the Somerville Library already, where posters were found on the bulletin board and in books,” she added.
Police have 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.
In August 2017, the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution denouncing hate speech in the county, and, under New Jersey law, a crime is subject to more serious punishment if was committed against a person because of race, color, religion, gender or other protected class.
One of the biggest issues as they move forward, Friedlander said, is that of the First Amendment and free speech.
“We are being careful not to intrude on their rights, but we are going to use our voices to be louder and more impactful,” she said. “We are going to be reaching out to local officials and law enforcement to ask them to publicly denounce these groups and make sure that their communities know where they stand on these groups and their agendas.”
Resident Elizabeth Schulz said it is important to send the right message to all residents.
“I personally want to be sure that local residents understand that the vast majority of their neighbors are inclusive and accepting, and that we will stand to defend our neighbors against intimidation, racism, homophobia,” she said. “I invite all our neighbors to make their voices heard and be visible in rejecting, and reporting where appropriate, any acts that attempt to marginalize or oppress anyone in our community. The neo-Nazis, the white supremacists and other hate groups are a tiny minority of the people who live here, but it’s time to be sure our voices of inclusiveness and protection are heard loud and clear, by all.”