PEABODY — A Peabody couple became concerned when stickers for white supremacist groups were slapped on an electrical box on Gardner Street not far from their home, not once but twice in recent weeks.
They also spotted a sticker for an anti-Semitic and white supremacist group called Patriot Front – which has been actively “slap-tagging” in some North Shore communities, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The sticker, found on a utility pole in heavily trafficked Wilson Square, was not far from their home. The “Better Dead Than Red” sticker has also turned up in Salem.
In nearby Marblehead, police have not had reports of such stickers. However, Police Chief Robert Picariello said the town recently experienced two hate incidents.
In an email on Monday, Picariello said that on March 3, graffiti was reported on a mural under the Village Street bridge. The tagging contained racist language, the chief said.
“The other was a swastika formed out of gum or some other similar substance and stuck to a pole near the tennis courts at the JCC,” said Picariello, who added that the Jewish Community Center on Community Road reported the incident on March 4. The incidents are under investigation. Marty Schneer, the JCC executive director, declined to comment on the incident.
The incidents come at a time when the Marblehead Police Department and the town have commissioned the Winthrop police chief to investigate an allegation that a former Marblehead police officer reportedly scratched a swastika into the paint of another officer’s personal car sometime in the summer of 2019. The incident only came to light publicly last December. It’s not know when a report on the incident will be released to the public.
These incidents have upset Jews across the North Shore. In Peabody, Sasha Gillin, a 39-year-old labor attorney and mother of two, said of the hate stickers showing up in her neighborhood, “If left unchecked, it’s like a cancer.”
The posting of hate stickers by Patriot Front and other groups is becoming more common on the North Shore. This group twice targeted Pride Flag stickers at a Salem vegan bakery in January and February.
Salem police have received reports of six slap-tagging incidents in the downtown since Jan. 1, according to acting police Chief Dennis King. Stickers by another white supremacist, anti-Semitic group, Nationalist Social Club, were found downtown last summer.
And on Jan. 29, Beverly put out a “unified statement denouncing hate symbols” after “receiving troubling reports of stickers, recruitment flyers, and most recently the display of a flag attributable to white-supremacy groups, including the Patriot Front and Three Percenters.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League New England’s Media and Communications Manager Shellie Burgman, ADL’s H.E.A.T. map shows that there were 338 incidents of white supremacist propaganda in Massachusetts in 2020, compared to 258 in 2019, a 31 percent increase. There has already been 16 white supremacist propaganda incidents in the state this year.
The ADL says the groups responsible include Patriot Front followed by Nationalist Social Club and Revolt Through Tradition. Additional flyers were posted by Daily Stormer Book Club (which left Holocaust denial flyers on the grounds of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead in July 2019), New Jersey European Heritage Association, Identity Evropa, and The Base.
Gillin believes it’s important for the city of Peabody to take a stand, even if it’s just in the form of city personnel removing stickers from public places.
Gillin said she and her husband, Chris, did not get an immediate response to a voicemail message they left with the city about the initial sticker left on the electrical box by Patriot Front, however, the mayor and the police chief have since condemned the slap-tagging incidents in a joint statement.
“Peabody has always been a welcoming and inclusive community and we reject any ideology based in hate, intolerance, and exclusion,” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt and police Chief Tom Griffin. “The Peabody Police Department is actively investigating ‘slap-tagging’ of white supremacist stickers on public property. We encourage anyone with additional information about the perpetrators, or additional acts not yet reported to contact the department at 978-531-1212.”
“Patriot Front is a white supremacist group and they have got members all over the place, and this is one of the ways they spread their message,” said Robert Trestan, executive director of ADL New England’s Boston office. Trestan also believes it’s important to speak up, condemn and remove such stickers as a community, and not to ignore them.
“I think what’s important is that we don’t become immune and numb to the message of hate. If we ignore it, we become normalized to it,” Trestan said.
Trestan said Peabody and Salem are communities with “very strong moral compasses,” that should not be judged by a message slapped on a utility pole. However, Trestan urged the community to be vigilant.
“And we also have to be committed to not give up,” Trestan said. “When it comes to hate, we can’t give up. We have to continuously fight it, otherwise they win.”
After not hearing back from the city for a couple of days after the first sticker appeared, Gillin said her husband scraped it off. A couple of days later, a new one appeared.
“The fact they keep appearing after they are taken down is kind of terrifying,” Gillin said.
The second sticker was for a group called Will2Rise. It contained the organization’s logo and lightning bolts consistent with white supremacist imagery derived from the SS symbol or SS bolts of Nazi Germany.
The sticker is an emblem of a group that sells apparel, shirts, outwear, and fight clothing for white nationalists. Its website has an address in the Flushing neighborhood in New York City.
It’s website boasts: “Will2Rise is founded by front line nationalists that have attended and defend our people at some of the most significant nationalist events across America and Europe.”
“They are trying to make money on hate, that’s what’s going on here,” Trestan said. According to Trestan, the group is related to the white supremacist group, Rise Above Movement, based in Southern California. This group operates like a street flighting club.
Gillin said she went to the group’s “slick” website, and found it was for white nationalists peddling Nazi propaganda.
“It’s the same old messages in a new form,” said Gillin, who is Jewish.
After the couple scrapped this second sticker off the electrical box, Gillin emailed Peabody Councilor-at-large Tom Gould, who forwarded her message to the Peabody police chief.
“I’m disappointed it happened. It was not intentional, we take these things very seriously,” said Christopher Ryder, the mayor’s chief of staff, about why the city did not get back to the Gillins’ voicemail message right away.