SAUGUS – Just days after a white supremacist group hung antisemitic and racist banners at highway overpasses in Saugus and Danvers, a group of 125 attended a rousing rally last Wednesday on the steps of Saugus City Hall to protest against hate.
Many said they were offended by the banners, which were held by masked members of the National Socialist Club, or NSC-131. The banners read, “Jews did 9/11,” and “Defend White Communities NSC-131.” Law enforcement authorities say that while the language on the banner is offensive, the white supremacists have a right to assemble and express their opinions, under the First Amendment.
NSC-131 was founded in Worcester in 2019. Its members see themselves as “soldiers at war with a hostile-Jewish-controlled system that is deliberately plotting the extinction of the white race,” according to the Anti-Defamation League’s website. It is led by Christopher Hood, who was arrested last July, and charged with fighting during a protest in Jamaica Plain. On Monday, Hood, 23, appeared for a pre-trial hearing in West Roxbury Division of Boston Municipal Court. His pre-trial hearing will be held Oct. 17.
“I just wanted to show my support and try to say this kind of stuff is not acceptable,” said Denise Beneteau of Saugus. “It’s a complete mystery to me how anybody came up with the idea in the first place that the Jews caused 9/11; and that anybody could still be promoting that, I don’t get it. I am Episcopalian and I don’t think the Jews should be the only ones to stand up to this.”
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, who leads Chabad of the North Shore, organized the vigil and cautioned that freedom of speech and the First Amendment can be used to spread lies.
“Yes, we have freedom of speech, but the perspective that we bring to it makes all of the difference in the world,” said Lipsker. “And I believe it’s fair to say that the freedom of speech that was exercised this past Saturday was not the freedom of speech that was the beacon of light of this country. It does not embody the principles of liberty and justice that are the quintessential bedrock of our society. That’s not the free speech – that’s tyranny of speech.”
The vigil was attended by several area police chiefs, including Saugus Police Chief Michael Ricciardelli, who condemned the hate speech. Others attending included members of the Saugus Board of Selectmen, state Representative Paul Tucker, and state Senator Joan B. Lovely. In addition, several representatives of Boston Jewish organizations also attended.
“I want to remind us that while antisemitism is connected to history, and ideology and politics, for us it is personal. With the recent surge of Jew-hatred in America, many in the Jewish community are feeling very vulnerable right now, wondering whether we can feel safe in our own country, in our own community, in our own cities and towns, like Saugus,” said Rabbi Marc Baker, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
“But this place and this time can be different, and that’s because of all of you. Because of our friends and allies and leaders, who refuse to stand for bigotry and hate, and who will stand with us and our community; to the civic leaders, law enforcement, elected officials, who are here today; to all of those who have the courage to speak up and show up today, and every day, we thank you. It means everything to us.”
Tucker, who is running for Essex County District Attorney, urged people not to be bystanders if they witness acts of hate. “If we don’t call out these acts of hate it becomes normalized and once we do that you can never come back from it. We need to stand up every single time,” he said. “There’s no bystanders in this. We’re either a community or not. We need to stand up as one and call this out every single time.”