KITTERY, Maine — Every person who lined Route 1 Saturday holding signs and flags stood in protest of recent actions by a neo-Nazi group. For Newmarket, New Hampshire, resident John Beyer, who attended with his wife, Donna, the demonstration against hate was personal.
“People don't pay attention to history and what can happen when it repeats itself,” Beyer said with a frown. “Nazis today, it’s unthinkable."
Beyer said his father immigrated to America in the 1930s from Germany to escape the Nazi regime that was rising to power. Bringing only his mother and older sister, the plan was he’d come to America to work and save money to help other family members immigrate, too. As World War II began years later and progressed, he never got the chance. The family members in Germany who didn’t come to America all died during the war. Beyer said some of them died because they did what he was doing Saturday: standing up against hate and Nazi ideology.
"My dad never spoke about what he endured in Germany, his loss," Beyer said. "This is not something we shouldn’t be repeating.”
Drivers passing by the peaceful anti-hate rally Saturday honked horns in support of the crowd of 200-plus. Rally participants cheered and waved. Some wore bandanas covering their face, mocking members of the Nationalist Social Club who had appeared in the same location a week earlier, holding a sign proclaiming white supremacy.
The anti-hate rally was organized by Dresden Lewis, owner of Seacoast-area bakery Nommmunism, which is active in social causes. Lewis decided to spread a positive message and make it clear hate has no place in southern Maine and Seacoast New Hampshire.
“This is a loving, inclusive community and we're not gonna stand for hate in our community,” Lewis said, gesturing to the crowd. “This is what happens when you ask people to show up in solidarity.”
Maine state Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, said she was proud to see the turnout.
“We are more powerful because of our diversity,” Hymanson said. “I’m thrilled to see American flags among the various flags waving today. America was built on the idea of diversity, so it’s a proud moment to see so many push back against hate today.”
'It's really scary': Rally against neo-Nazis' message of hate coming to Kittery
What is the Nationalist Social Club?
The Anti-Defamation League says the group “espouses racism, antisemitism and intolerance” online and through graffiti and other propaganda. Its members "see themselves as soldiers at war with a hostile, Jewish-controlled system that is deliberately plotting the extinction of the white race.”
Earlier this month, the Nationalist Social Club distributed recruitment materials to homes and other various areas in Portsmouth, Kittery and other areas locally and around New England.
Several individuals identifying themselves as neo-Nazis gathered on Route 1 in Kittery last weekend, a little more than a week after the flyers started to appear in town. The neo-Nazi group was publicly rebuked by the Kittery Town Council for distributing recruitment flyers in town, and the Town Council condemned the group’s message of hate.
Kittery residents chastised the neo-Nazi group in a special meeting called last week by Town Council chairperson Judy Spiller to address the recruitment flyers found in town. Town Manager Kendra Amaral said, “Kittery as a community does not support hate in any form.” Portsmouth residents spoke out in response, too, concerned they may have been targeted for distribution of the group's flyers because they are Jewish.
Members of the same group targeted the Seacoast Repertory Theatre of Portsmouth over its drag queen story hour last year. That incident led to a surge in donations and community support for the theater, which continued its shows.
On Saturday in Boston, hours before the rally in Kitery, three men were arrested at an event the district attorney called an "organized white supremacist action," according to an Associated Press report. The Boston Police Department said Saturday that three men were arrested for disturbing the peace in Jamaica Plain, a diverse neighborhood of Boston. A spokesperson for Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden said he was told one of the three men arrested is affiliated with the group known as NSC 131 or the Nationalist Social Club. The Boston Herald reported police believed the white supremacist members targeted a drag queen story hour event.
Concern arises over recruitment efforts: Portsmouth residents alarmed by neo-Nazi recruitment flyers.
Kittery condemns message of hate: Kittery speaks out against neo-Nazi group's message of hate in town, across New England
Kittery rally pushes message of love
Supporters came to Kittery Saturday from across the Seacoast of New Hampshire and Maine. Six-year-old Finnegan Opasinski held a sign reading “Choose Love.” While his father, Kevin, said his son doesn’t fully understand, he knows he’s there to spread love and a positive message at a time when others are spreading negative, hateful messages. His father says he worries what his son’s generation will face, but he wants him to know there’s no place for hate in the community.
Geof Dolan, of Wells, came out to support his friends who received leaflets littered across their neighborhood.
“It seemed like the group had targeted non-white people of their neighborhood, and that’s not something we’re OK with,” Dolan said. “It's a little sad that we actually have to do this, but I think it's our duty to show our support for our community and let the group responsible for these hateful messages know that there isn't a place for them here.”
Ciela Boyd, of Kittery, worries about her friends not feeling safe in their own community. She held a sign that said “white supremacists are here, will you be?”
“The hate and division they want to spread is not something that I'm going to sit here and stand for,” Boyd said. “I love this community. I hope we can keep this momentum going and continue to stand up for the people who are too afraid or threatened to be out here with us today. We need more people to speak up.”
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Jess Morgan, of Dover, New Hampshire, said she’s appalled by the neo-Nazi group becoming more visible and bold, “spreading fear just 15 minutes away” from her home.
When asked what message they wanted to send, Kennebunkport resident Linda Stathoplos said it was to “urge the community to challenge racism and injustice in their community.” That action doesn’t stop after the rally is over, she and others said, urging that people be more involved with local elections and other efforts to condemn hateful rhetoric against their neighbors and community.
Material from the Associated Press and Ian Lenahan of Seacoast Media Group is included in this report.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Kittery rally stands against spread of hate on Seacoast