Burlington officers removing stickers from a hate group Wednesday
Burlington police say a white supremacist group known as the Patriot Front has once again targeted local activists by slapping stickers on their signage.
The stickers — which depict a sickle, the slogan “Better Dead Than Red” and Patriot Front’s web address — were affixed to the King Street side of the Turning Point Center building on South Winooski Avenue. The wall displays wayfinding signs for Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington, Migrant Justice, the Vermont Workers' Center and 350Vermont, all of which have space in the building at 179 South Winooski.
After receiving a complaint, officers removed the stickers around 8 a.m. Wednesday, Det. Tom Chenette said.
“We tend to get a lot of calls about them,” Chenette said of such stickers. “They are absolutely bias-motivated and absolutely targeting these institutions.”
The Vermont Workers' Center and Migrant Justice declined to comment. Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington and 350Vermont could not immediately be reached.
Patriot Front formed in the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists it as a growing hate group whose “militant street action” is becoming more violent. The "image-obsessed organization ... focuses on theatrical rhetoric and activism that can be easily distributed as propaganda for its chapters across the country," according to the SPLC.
The group and its tactics are not new to the Queen City. They made headlines in February 2018 when a small, masked contingent chanting "blood and soil" marched on City Hall Park with a banner reading, “Reclaim America,” the Burlington Free Press reported.
The group had originally intended to rally at the Staples Plaza in South Burlington, but changed course when its plans leaked and a large crowd of anti-racism demonstrators showed there instead.
Since then, Burlington police have seen an uptick in calls about Patriot Front propaganda, Chenette said, including posters plastered on the University of Vermont and Champlain College campuses last year. In February of this year, police issued a press release about "bias-motivated vandalism" after the group put its stickers on the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, the Pride Center of Vermont and a third location that asked not to be named.
Recently, the stickers were placed at the Richmond park-and-ride lot and on newspaper boxes, including one belonging to Seven Days outside of the Greater Burlington YMCA. Police removed other stickers elsewhere in the city last week and receive calls about them on a biweekly basis, Chenette said.
Police aren’t sure if the group has a Vermont chapter but suspect that there’s at least one active member "that doesn't seem to be leaving," according to Chenette.
The stickering activity is not considered criminal unless the adhesive damages the underlying surface, Chenette said.
“They have a pretty good understanding of where the line is and not to cross it criminally,” he said, noting the First Amendment technically protects the group's preferred form of "speech."
Mayor Miro Weinberger, however, made it clear in a February statement that the group should stay away because its views "are antithetical to Burlington’s commitment to be a welcoming, inclusive community." Chenette suspects the group has hit the Queen City for exactly that reason.
“It’s sad, but I think they target Burlington because we are so inclusive,” he said. “They think they’re going to get the most press if they go after us because it will stir us up more than other places.”
Police encourage the public to report the group’s activity to aid in identifying those responsible. Members often wear masks and purposely avoid security cameras, Chenette said.
“We’re going to be looking to sit down and have a conversation with them,” Chenette said.
Correction, July 31, 2019: A previous version of this story misstated the phrase written on the stickers.