KKK fliers in downtown Lafayette for third time stir demands for stronger city response
Dave Bangert, Lafayette Journal & Courier Published 4:39 p.m. ET Jan. 7, 2020 | Updated 11:40 a.m. ET Jan. 8, 2020
Ku Klux Klan fliers found in downtown Lafayette for the third time in two years has some calling on the city to take a stronger stance.
LAFAYETTE – The late-night, faceless M.O. is familiar by now in and around downtown Lafayette.
Maybe a little too familiar, says Susan Schechter, who in recent days found a small flier on her porch at 10th and Ferry streets, telling her that the “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Wants You to Join!”
The piece of paper – printed with a phone number in North Carolina on one side and an admonition to “Love your own race” next to the face of a hooded Klansman on the other – came in a sandwich-size plastic bag, weighted down by a few small stones, that has been a hallmark of Klan material turning up in downtown Lafayette at least three times in the past two years.
Recruiting fliers for the Ku Klux Klan, tucked into plastic sandwich bags and weighted down with rocks, were found in Jan. 3, 2019, at homes and businesses in and near downtown Lafayette. The reports were the third in the past two years.
Recruiting fliers for the Ku Klux Klan, tucked into plastic sandwich bags and weighted down with rocks, were found in Jan. 3, 2019, at homes and businesses in and near downtown Lafayette. The reports were the third in the past two years. (Photo: Photo provided)
Schechter reported the find to Lafayette police early this week. She said officers offered to come get it from her or that she could just throw the propaganda away. She pitched it on her own. Lafayette police already had reported picking up two dozen of the fliers after responding to a report Friday from a resident on Brown Street.
“This is ridiculous,” Schechter said. “It is true, it’s legal to disseminate. Churches do it. Candidates do it. But they don’t do it under the cover of darkness. And they don’t do it with rocks. … I’m not intimidated. But I think this material, this junk – whatever you want to call it – it’s intended to intimidate, whoever it is doing it.”
No one has stepped up to take responsibility for dropping this round of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ leaflets. The telephone number on the fliers leads to an answering machine for the Loyal White Knights, a group in Pelham, North Carolina, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of dozens of Ku Klux Klan groups active across the United States. (The outgoing message: “If you’re white and proud, join the crowd.”) The website, which credits a couple named Chris and Amanda Barker as leaders, touts calls for separating races and religions under a general theme of, “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right.”
It was a similar situation in January 2018 and April 2019, when fliers from the group – again, bagged with small rocks in clear plastic – wound up on doorsteps of Main Street businesses and apartments.
“It’s so disgusting,” said Eric Wiemer, a Purdue graduate student who found the Klan’s baggies outside his Main Street apartment in 2018 and 2019.
The discovery led him to join Showing Up for Racial Justice, an anti-racism organization with a chapter in Greater Lafayette. Leaders of SURJ and other groups said this week they plan to press city officials at Monday’s Lafayette City Council meeting about what, if anything, can be done.
“At the very least – the least I can ask for – is some sort of condemnation of these acts from our city officials,” Wiemer said. “I want some comfort that we don’t support this stuff in this city. I want to feel comfortable in my home and in my community, and I want to see them reassure me and my friends that this isn’t what we stand for.”
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said police have looked into each case, trying to identify who was passing out the Klan material. A Journal & Courier review of city-owned security cameras in downtown after the 2018 and 2019 incidents produced images of a man dropping off what appeared to be the fliers, but no one claimed to be or to know him.
Roswarski said that if police did find out who was doing it, “it’s not technically illegal, other than maybe littering.”
“We can’t control the behavior of every single person,” Roswarski said. “What’s important as a community is that we stand together and say that this is a welcoming community, this is a community that supports diversity and that the activities of the Klan are deplorable and we, in every way, condemn what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to recruit.”
Kirsten Gibson, director of the local SURJ chapter, said she wasn’t sure there was much police could do, either. She noted “a certain boldness” when someone could distribute Klan recruiting pieces “and feel there are no repercussions.”
“I think it’s telling that, when Indiana has this rich history, unfortunately, with the KKK and white supremacist organizations, and when it shows up in our community, there’s really hardly a noticeable response,” Gibson said.
BANGERT: The strategy the last time Ku Klux Klan rallied in Lafayette
“We’re asking our city leaders to take a stand and to make a public statement against these kinds of actions whenever they happen,” Gibson said. “Especially because the city is concerned with the culture in Lafayette. They’re wanting to improve the downtown life, as they have been over the past couple of years. And, yes, while it may be embarrassing that we have midget wrestling at the Lafayette Theater, what I think is more embarrassing is that there are white supremacist fliers downtown and there’s hardly a response.”
(The last line was a riff on the city’s recent purchase and contracting the nonprofit Long Center board to take over booking for the Lafayette Theater – a spot targeted with Klan fliers in the past.)
Among the suggestions will be a bigger push to plan for the YWCA’s “Stand Against Racism” events in April, when businesses and groups will be asked to host or organize events meant to discuss and confront racism.
“People dropping off these fliers do those things when they think there’s an audience for it,” said Jordan Bonfitto, director of communications and engagement for YWCA Greater Lafayette. “Obviously, they’re doing it at night because they know it’s looked down upon. But they’re also thinking, ‘You know what, people do agree with me.’ I think the more public conversations we have, the more businesses we have who say, ‘Look, we stand against racism,’ that the people doing this will realize there’s less of an audience.”
Deanna McMillan, an engineer and educator living in Lafayette, didn’t get one of the Loyal White Knights fliers this time around. But she said she saw Schechter’s Facebook page, which had a picture of what was found on her porch.
“I've had enough,” said McMillan, who is African American. “We brought my grandson out of the pits of hell in Baltimore only to have this (B.S.) to deal with.”
McMillan compared the Klan leaflets to the arrests made in the past week of two adults and three juveniles caught spray-painting gang-related graffiti in Lafayette’s north end.
“Can you imagine raising a black child in this environment?” McMillan asked. “There needs to be repercussions for these actions. It's a free for all in the Greater Lafayette area. There is none. I'm from New York City. What do you think would happen is that (stuff) was left on people's doorstep?”
Schechter said she speculated neighborhoods in and near downtown were targeted to stir things up in a place where there is “a lot more diversity than in other places in town.”
“I don’t think it’s a huge threat, honestly,” Schechter said. “But it keeps happening. It can’t go unanswered. It’s just unacceptable here.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: The YWCA Greater Lafayette’s Stand Against Racism 2020 will be April 23-26. For more information and for event registration, which opens Jan. 20, go to www.standagainstracism.org
Aside from Ku Klux Klan recruiting pieces being distributed in downtown Lafayette, there have been other fliers and threats tied to white supremacists found in Greater Lafayette in the past three years. Among them, according to J&C archives:
► In May 2017, West Lafayette police received numerous complaints about fliers rolled up around construction nails and delivered on doors and in driveways near campus with unsigned, uncredited death threats to singer-songwriter Jackson Browne and college professors, with warnings to residents: "Shut your mouth or pay the consequences!" Police investigated but did not report arrests. (Similar fliers were found in downtown Monticello, about 29 miles north, that same weekend.)
► On Jan. 21, 2018, someone tied bedsheet-sized banners on a fence outside the Unitarian Universalist Church, 333 Meridian St. in West Lafayette, with slurs about gays and lesbians, African Americans, Hispanics and – again – Jackson Browne. Those banners included threats, referencing a mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas that killed 58 and injured more than 500 more people. West Lafayette police, assisted by federal law enforcement, investigated but made no arrests. A rally at the church a few nights later drew an overflow crowd of church members, city officials and clergy from other congregations.
► On Sept. 1, 2018, visitors coming to Labor’s Day in the Park, a Labor Day event that draws hundreds to Lafayette’s Columbian Park, found neo-Nazi fliers tacked to trees outside the Tropicanoe Cove water park and taped to fence outside Loeb Stadium. The fliers touted the National Socialist Legion, a spinoff of Vanguard America, a white nationalist group – then known as American Vanguard – that has distributed posters and propaganda in the past three years at Purdue University. Lafayette parks security, using park cameras, were not able to identify who left the material.
Reach Dave Bangert at 765-420-5258 or at email@example.com
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