CHATHAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — White nationalists appear to be rearing the ugly head of racism once again in the Village of Chatham, but people who live there say they’re having none of it.
“Get a life,” says one neighbor Paul Trapanese.
Police and Chatham Mayor John Howe confirm to NEWS10 around 20 neighbors found sandwich bags thrown into their yards this week. They were filled with beans to weigh down ads for White Lives Matter New York and a film called “Europa” — a self titled “documentary” littered with anti-Semitic rhetoric and claims that Nazis acted in self defense during World War II.
“We have a history of them here in the community going back to last December when they started recruiting in the neighborhood by putting stickers around,” explains Michael Richardson, a local activist who also publishes a newsletter called “Hate Watch Report”.
“After the insurrection on January 6, there was a group of us that felt it was necessary to have a report here in our community that would allow people to understand this is something that is not just happening far away in Washington D.C. or in Portland Oregon. It’s happening right here in our community,” he explains.
“Of course it’s easy to think, don’t give them any–how would you say it–oxygen? Of course they love getting the attention, but the other side of that argument is when something like this happens, the people affected want answers. Hate should never be swept under the rug, and we should expose who these people are and what they’re doing,” he continues.
Richardson says Hate Watch Report has chronicled a timeline of the WLM NY attempts to invade local communities since December 2021, and neighbors regularly say something when they see signs of hate pop up around the village. He showed NEWS10 five of the propaganda bags his neighbors all brought to his home.
Although his friends and fellow residents are somewhat familiar with rejecting the White Lives Matter New York rhetoric that pops up from time to time, this time their disgust is also mingled with fear.
“Well the natural reaction for anyone that finds this thrown into their yard, which is completely unusual and out of place, is they wonder if they’re being targeted,” Richardson says to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
Mayor Howe says police are investigating, but the blurry line between free speech and hate speech leaves investigators with little to claim as a crime. That doesn’t mean they stop looking though.
“The concern is the message. We’d like to identify these people or group just so that we can keep tabs of what’s going on,” Mayor Howe says.
Driving up downtown shows business after business sporting signs that say “Hate Has No Home Here.” They’ve been fixtures since the villagers organized an “anti-hate” rally after the same White Lives Matter New York group tried campaigning in Chatham back in January. Villagers say this message is a much better picture of what their community is really like.
“Having lived up here for 37 years, most people they’re pretty open minded and accepting of other people. So it’s not indicative of the community at large,” Trapanese says.
“I just want to drive that point home is there is no room for hate here in the Village of Chatham,” says Mayor Howe.