By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller, in a statement released Thursday, said the Patriot Front stickers showing up throughout the township are the “antithesis of everything for which Montclair stands.”
As Montclair Local reported late last month, stickers for the white supremacist group have been showing up in town since spring of last year. The Montclair Police Department, in a statement prompted by the news organization’s inquiries, said it’s aware of the stickers and monitoring them. It said no specific threats against any groups had been made, but police were looking for those responsible and treating the incidents as potential bias crimes.
“The Patriot Front is a white supremacist, neo-fascist, and anti-Semitic organization, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a Neo-Nazi group,” Spiller said in his statement Thursday. And he said the group’s message has no place in Montclair, “known nationally as one of the foremost progressive American communities.”
He said Montclair isn’t immune to violent extremism, but “our diverse community shines as an example of everything this group is against.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center 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, Va., 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.
“Montclair will not stand silently by while our community is defaced by these anti-democratic terrorists. We will not be intimidated. We will not give in. We must declare in a unified and powerful voice that hate has no place in Montclair,” Spiller wrote. He said the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol demonstrates the need to confront such threats.
Spiller said he’s communicated his concerns not only to local police, but to the state Office of Homeland Security. Police have also referred the matter to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and to the state’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center.
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.
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 saw a significant rise in incidents over that span of time — eight in 2019 after having just one incident in 2018. A 2020 report is not yet available.
— Includes previous reporting by Andrew Garda