The Anti-Defamation League of New England was able to zoom in on film and photos that captured symbols on clothing, flags, hats, and signs that identified people from the region who participated in the siege on the Capitol Jan. 6.
“The activity we see here is consistent with the rest of the country,” said Robert Trestan, the ADL’s executive director in New England. “And it’s not to say that Massachusetts and New England is this hotbed or center point for extremists, but like other parts of the country, there are people who hold these very strong views and are publicly pushing them out.”
The ADL spotted members from a neo-Nazi, white supremacist group called the Nationalist Social Club that has chapters in New England. One image the ADL saw read “New England 131,” which is associated with the group. The “131” is alphanumeric code for ACA, Anti Communist Action.
Trestan said a photo from inside the Capitol shows someone carrying a so-called “Kek flag” that was also carried by a small group of NSC members to a “Restore Sanity” rally last June, an event that was organized by a group that advocates for the “straight community” called Super Happy Fun America.
Kek is “a made-up deity connected to a semi-ironic ‘religion’ embraced by alt-right white supremacists,” according to the ADL.
“If you look up the picture of the flag in front of the State House [in June] at the Super Happy Fun America event, it’s that flag. The same flag,” Trestan said.
The Nationalist Social Club is more of a threat to the Jewish community.
“NSC members consider themselves soldiers fighting a war against a hostile, Jewish-controlled system that is deliberately plotting the extinction of the white race,” according to the ADL.
Salem police were investigating the group for tagging stickers in the city that read “NSC 131 Zone” during the summer, and it was working with the Salem No Place for Hate Committee to identify individuals in the area tied to the group.
The other group, Super Happy Fun America, which organized the Straight Pride Parade in Boston in the summer of 2019, is no stranger to the North Shore.
Two members of the Super Happy group, Mark G. Sahady of Malden – who organized the parade – and Suzanne Ianni of Natick have been charged with misdemeanor trespassing and disorderly conduct after they were identified from photos taken inside the Capitol.
Swampscott police Detective Ted Delano said the group held two protests in town in proximity to Gov. Charlie Baker’s house last year, including a “Protest for Freedom” rally on Monument Avenue on May 16 that drew 200 people.
Trestan did not describe Super Happy Fun America as being white supremacist, but he said “they are on the far right of the spectrum.”
“They have consistently been a magnet for other extremists,” Trestan said. “And, the event that they had in June at the State House is a perfect example of that, where white supremacists came and saw a little bit of an ally-ship, a little bit of a kinship, with the group and that’s why they came. And they used their event to display a Nazi flag and to push forward white supremacist views.”
According to the ADL’s H.E.A.T. map, which tracks the locations of hate crimes nationwide, other groups active in Greater Boston and on the North Shore in the past couple of years include Patriot Front, which has been dropping flyers, posting stickers, and hanging banners; and the Daily Stormer Book Club, which left a Holocaust denial flyer at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead in July 2019.
The ADL said other groups that were spotted at the Capitol insurrection were the Three Percenters, which is part of the militia movement, and the anti-government, right-wing Oath Keepers, which aims to recruit former military, police officers, and firefighters.
Members of another far-right group, the Proud Boys, also have been identified in photos and video taken at the Capitol riot, and several have been arrested.
Last Sunday, the Lappin Foundation in Salem and the newly formed Teen Antisemitism Task Force shed light on extremism by hosting a Zoom talk called “Breaking Hate,” featuring former white supremacist turned Emmy award-winning television producer and author Christian Picciolini of Chicago, who now works to counter extremism.
As a teenager, he was recruited by a neo-Nazi skinhead leader. Ultimately, he left the movement at age 22 in the 1990s after he got married, started a family, and began meeting Blacks and Jews in his record store.
Picciolini said it was an honor to be able to speak to the local Jewish group during the week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Extremism flourishes when there is uncertainty,” Picciolini said, “when populations feel heavy uncertainty when it comes to things like jobs or finances or, right now we are dealing with all sorts of uncertainty with the pandemic. And unfortunately, during times of uncertainty is when people kind of grasp for these lottery ticket ideas, conspiracy theories and things like that, and oftentimes Jews bear the brunt of those conspiracy theories, partly based on those old anti-Semitic tropes, but partly based on new ones that have emerged.”
He said the reason people find their way into these hate movements is not because of ideology, “It’s because they are trying to find a sense of identity, community, and purpose and these groups somehow reward them.”