Flyers promoting a white supremacist group were found this week on parked cars in Saratoga Springs, where recent instances of hate speech are set to be discussed at a public meeting later this month.
The Saratoga Springs Police Department said hateful flyers were discovered on parked cars Wednesday morning in the areas of Bensonhurst Avenue and Church Street.
Police Chief Greg Veitch released a statement on the department’s Facebook page explaining that there are no direct threats or references to the local community in the handbills, and that placing notes on car windshields is a crime.
Veitch said it does not appear any particular person or group was targeted and that no other reports of the handbills have come from other parts of the city.
But the chief went on to say that residents “should remain vigilant and prepared to counter the messages of hate in our community with our own messages of peace and respect for all human beings. While we continue to investigate this matter, I expect the Saratoga Springs community to once again display its commitment to inclusion and mutual respect for all of our residents and visitors. We have done so in the past and we will continue to do so in the future.”
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen also condemned the notices.
“I don’t think it represents our community. I think Saratogians are better than that. Although we have seen some hate crimes in our community, we are taking every action possible to send the opposite message, which is that we are a welcoming and inclusive community,” said Yepsen.
Swastikas were found spray-painted on sidewalks in Saratoga Springs last November. In January a mysterious Instagram page with a title standing for “Saratoga High School 4th Reich” appeared and quickly disappeared.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups across the country, said the language and distribution of the flyers found this week is consistent with the Ku Klux Klan.
Ryan Lenz is senior Investigative Writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project and is an expert on the radical right.
“It’s a very analog approach to a world in which the Internet is increasingly the venue racist organizations are using to recruit and spread their message. And it’s an analog approach that’s used almost exclusively by the Ku Klux Klan,” said Lenz.
Lenz said flyers found on lawns or windshields may contain hateful sentiments but it’s often not a violation of the First Amendment, as the language does not incite violence or violate other rulings.
It’s also difficult to tell how many individuals placed the flyers — and who they are.
“As racism and the ideologies of intolerance become more and more mainstream, or reflected in some respect in the political process, the Klan is trying to bank on that reality – on the normalization of hate and extremism – in the hopes that it can once again rise to its former prominence,” said Lenz.
The flyers and other instances of hate speech in Saratoga Springs are set to be discussed at a town hall-style meeting set for Monday May 22nd at 7:30 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall.
Mayor Yepsen said there she will formally introduce the city’s new Human Rights Task Force.
In December the Saratoga Springs city council passed a resolution indicating a stand against all acts against a person or persons based on race, ethnicity, nation of origin, religion, gender, sexual identity, disability, or political views.
“And we intend to have this Human Rights Task Force really execute that mission so we’re not just talking the talk but we’re walking the walk,” said Yepsen.