By Andrew Garda
Montclair residents are again spotting stickers promoting what watchdog organizations describe as a white nationalist hate group.
The Montclair Police Department said in a release last week there’s been “growing concern on social media and elsewhere over residents locating ‘Patriot Front’ stickers affixed to Township property.” The release was prompted by Montclair Local’s inquiry, after residents approached the news organization about seeing stickers around town.
The police department said the incidents are being investigated.
“Patriot Front has been identified as an American white supremacist, neo-fascist and American nationalist group. The Anti- Defamation League recognizes Patriot Front as a white supremacist group,” the release says.
The SPLC describes the organization as “an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism. Patriot Front focuses on theatrical rhetoric and activism that can be easily distributed as propaganda for its chapters across the country.”
The same SPLC report describes Vanguard America as a neo-Nazi group that was involved in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, 2017. According to the report, Patriot Front’s founder, Thomas Rousseau, broke off with Vanguard after the rally, where he had led members during the march — including James Alex Fields Jr., whose car struck and killed anti-racism protester Heather Heyes.
Patriot Front spreads its message by distributing banners, fliers and stickers, the SPLC says.
In Montclair, those stickers were recently found near the corner of Valley Road and Claremont Avenue, along Harrison Avenue by the corners at Warren Place and Gates Avenue, and close to the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Orange Road, according to residents who contacted the police as well as Montclair Local.
The release from MPD mentions that it first became aware of the stickers in May of 2020 and reports from residents as well as officers on patrol have resulted in the stickers being removed.
The department said most of the stickers have been found in the area around Porter Park, along Harrison Avenue and Orange Road.
The stickers “are usually located on street signs and poles and contain phrases in red, white, and blue lettering,” police said.
MPD said while there have been no threats made, and no specific race or ethnicity has been the target of the stickers or any other actions, police will continue to treat these incidents as bias crimes and are looking for those responsible in conjunction with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
According to Sgt. Terence Turner of the MPD, placing stickers on township property would normally fall under vandalism or potentially harassment, but the police have to look at each specific incident and determine if it is a case of bias intimidation.
“If an incident appears to be bias-based or if it is a suspected case of bias intimidation, it would be investigated as if it was a confirmed case until we determine otherwise,” he said.
New Jersey’s bias intimidation statute defines the crime as an attempt to “intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.” An incident can also be considered a bias crime if the person responsible knew an individual or group would be intimidated for those reasons.
“We look at what the suspect’s motivation is or, in the absence of a clear motive, the display of any graffiti, symbols, words, etc,” Turner said. “In this specific case, the stickers advertised and displayed a recognized white supremacist group’s web site. So, the common sense approach would be to investigate it as a bias crime. The crime here would be criminal mischief and harassment.”
Anyone with information can call the MPD at 973-744-1234.
Resident Meghan Roberts, who found one of the stickers, said using that number and alerting the authorities is important, even if it is “just” a sticker.
“It’s on all of us to push back against the underlying message of white power when we see event the smallest opportunity to do so,” she said.
In its 2020 Terrorism Threat Assessment, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security named white supremacist extremism as one of the state’s greatest terrorism threats, higher than threats from any other group save for homegrown violent extremists, and marked both at a threat assessment level of “high.”
The state saw a rise in recruitment from 2019 onward, particularly at colleges and in college towns, according to the report.
“Since January 2019, there have been 168 reported instances of white supremacist propaganda distribution, compared to 46 in 2018,” according to the report. “They have been mostly in the form of flyers placed in public venues and higher education institutions throughout New Jersey.”
According to the 2019 State Bias Report for New Jersey, Essex County saw bias crimes increase from 22 in 2018 to 35 in 2019. Montclair Township saw a significant rise in incidents over that span of time — eight in 2019 after having just one incident in 2018.
Versions of the State Bias Report and Terrorism Threat Assessment have not yet been produced for 2020.