The Peace & Justice Center is hiring a police officer to stand guard at a forum on "white privilege" in the Essex Junction library next week, after receiving a concerning phone message from someone who promised to alert "a certain neo-Nazi organization" about the event.
Kyle Silliman-Smith, the PJC's program manager, said she received the voicemail last Friday from an unidentified woman taking issue with an event called "Making Whiteness Visible." In the message, the caller questions why the workshop "singles out white people as having something wrong with them."
"I need to let you know that I plan to forward your event to somebody in the neo — in the, uh — in a certain neo-Nazi organization. I think they need to know about what you're doing," the caller says. "So you put that yellow star on yourself and not on me. Good luck with your workshop. I hope only friendly people show up. Bye-bye."
The PJC event at Essex Junction's Brownell Library on April 7 combines the screening of Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, with a talk about "white privilege." The event is being co-presented by a number of racial justice groups, including Conversation on Race Now and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Silliman-Smith said Peace and Justice Center phones aren't equipped with caller ID, so she couldn't determine the source of the call. She said the PJC contacted Burlington police, which did a "full report" but ultimately determined the call did not contain explicit threats.
"There's no direct threat in it," said Burlington police Lt. Art Cyr. "We do not know who the person who sent the message was. I'll never say never, but it doesn’t look like anything too concerning at this point."
Cyr said Essex police are also aware of the phone message and are taking "extra measures to err on the side of caution." Silliman-Smith said the Peace and Justice Center asked Essex PD to dedicate an officer at next week's event, but the department said it could not spare one. Instead, the PJC is hiring an extra-duty Essex police officer to attend the forum at a cost of $50 per hour, Silliman-Smith said.
An Essex police spokesperson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Silliman-Smith said she was unsure whether the caller poses a threat or was just blowing off steam, but she hired the police officer out of an abundance of caution. The alternative was canceling the event, she said, and the PJC did not want to do that.
"Even if she's just one crazy person, I don't want to count on that," Silliman-Smith said.