Amid white nationalist activity, Bay Ridge takes cues from veteran activist
Anti-hate group Fight Back Bay Ridge hosted a forum last week to address recent white nationalist activity in the neighborhood, including an incident discovered earlier that same day at the church that hosted the forum.
Stickers advertising a far right group were plastered all over the gate at Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church when Pastor David Aja-Sigmon arrived Thursday morning. The pastor said the harassment didn’t deter him in the least from going ahead with the event as planned.
“One of our guiding principles as a church is the scriptural charge ‘to be a house of prayer for all nations,’” Aja-Sigmon said in a statement. “And though there was an attempt made to intimidate us, we know we’re not alone in our beliefs.”
The group behind the stickers, and behind draping a banner over the Belt Parkway in January, is Patriot Front, classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist splinter organization that broke off from the neo-facist group Vanguard America after 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
The banner read “Defend American Labor,” which, while not an overtly racist message, can be read as a white nationalist dog whistle.
Fight Back Bay Ridge and other local groups responded to the banner by organizing a rally that drew about 250 people last month to denounce the hate group’s presence in Bay Ridge. Attendees at that rally held signs, chanted and formed a human chain that stretched two blocks to show their unity.
“There’s a lot more of us than there are of them,” said Fight Back Bay Ridge founder Mallory McMahon, who also noted that the neighborhood has a reputation for being less progressive than other parts of Brooklyn. “We got 250 people into the street, they got maybe five [who dropped the banner]. I’d really like to get out the message that Bay Ridge is working very hard to stamp that element of our neighborhood out and change our reputation.”
McMahon arranged for Daryle Lamont Jenkins, founder of One People’s Project, a nonprofit that researches and reports on far-right groups, to travel from Philadelphia to speak at Thursday’s forum and share some knowledge from his 30-plus years studying hate groups.
Jenkins emphasized that the groups thrive when individual members are able to remain anonymous, and that once individual identities are exposed, the groups often fall apart. He cited the Unite the Right rally as an example. When white nationalists who attended the rally were later identified in photos and videos, they faced real-world consequences, like lost jobs and ruined relationships, Jenkins said.
“Patriot Front is a group that does not want to be seen,” Jenkins said, adding that the people who stickered the church ahead of Thursday’s forum hadn’t shown their faces at the event itself. “I think the fact that they have to hide shows they’re the ones who are intimidated,” he said.
According to Jenkins, there’s a fine line between exposing a hate group and amplifying its message. He advised against sharing pictures of recruitment flyers, banners or stickers with the media, unless the propaganda has already been widely disseminated. For material that hasn’t yet been in the press, Jenkins recommended simply taking it down.
“We’re dealing with white supremacists who want the attention, but they want it on their terms. The most important thing we need to do is find out ways we can draw them the kind of attention they don’t want,” Jenkins said.
He did, however, recommend filming and photographing white nationalist rallies and actions. One People’s Project collects such videos and photos and is compiling them into a database to help identify members of hate groups, including the masked men who draped the banner over the Belt Parkway last month.
Jenkins’s group posted a video of the incident, which also shows the unmasked faces of two of the alleged perpetrators (who were not filmed in the act of dropping the banner), along with a license plate number.
“The reason why we posted that video … was because that’s not the attention they wanted. They didn’t want anybody seeing them do it, they didn’t want anybody seeing their faces. They’re scared now,” he said.
He’s hoping someone will see the video and recognize the people involved.
“You won’t be Patriot Front anymore,” Jenkins said. “We will call you by your actual name.”
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