A Queens politician is calling on New Yorkers to confront white supremacist activity in the borough, after anti-immigrant posters linked to a violent neo-Nazi group were found in Sunnyside this past weekend.
The signs—which inform New Yorkers of their "civic duty to report any and all illegal aliens," and include a number for the ICE hotline—were seen pasted to electrical boxes on 35th Street and Skillman Avenue. Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer discovered two of them while out for a jog on Sunday, and promptly recorded himself tearing one down.
Saw this trash on #SkillmanAvenue during my a.m. run. Tore them up. We are a #SanctuaryCity & we need to be a sanctuary neighborhood. All Immigrants are welcome here. If you see these, feel free to take them down. Be a sanctuary neighbor. #QueensValues must trump #TrumpValues! pic.twitter.com/9mtuZeW1Cn
— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) October 7, 2018
On Tuesday, Van Bramer hosted a press conference alongside local residents and immigration activists with Make the Road NY to condemn the xenophobic flyers. "It's meant to intimidate all immigrants —whether they're documented or not," he told Gothamist. "The vast majority of people in this neighborhood, and in Queens, support immigrants," he told Gothamist. "But make no mistake, there are racists and white supremacists among us."
The councilmember also urged the community to serve as "sanctuary neighbors by actively confronting hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric," and said he'd be seeking more information about potential white supremacist activity in the neighborhood. According to the latest census, Sunynside boasts a population that is 35% Hispanic, 34% Asian, 28% white and 2% African-American.
Van Bramer's office believes the signs are the work of Vanguard America—a white supremacist group led by a self-identified neo-Nazi and former staff sergeant in the marines. The underground organization has emerged as an increasingly prominent far-right voice since President Trump's election, and made headlines for their visible presence during the deadly #UniteTheRight rally in Charlottesville. (James Fields, who allegedly murdered Heather Hayer with his car during the event, was photographed wearing the Vanguard uniform, though the group denies he is a member).
Vanguard America has also been linked to hateful signage that's previously appeared in the region: Members of the group allegedly held signs reading "Feminists Deserve the Rope" during a women's march in Rhode Island, and hung a banner reading "(((Heebs))) Will Not Divide Us" outside a Holocaust memorial in Lakewood, New Jersey. The white men who unfurled a banner in Fort Tryon park this summer declaring "STOP THE INVASION, END IMMIGRATION" were part of a separate neo-Nazi hate group, known as Identity Evropa.
Immigrant advocates with Make the Road NY see the surge of hateful rhetoric and incidents in the city as a direct result of President Trump's hardline policies designed to strip immigrants of their humanity. As of August 24th, there were 217 hate crimes reported in New York City in 2018—a slight decline from this time last year, when hate crimes soared by nearly 100 percent in the wake of the election.
"Hate has no place in Queens," Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, told Gothamist. “What makes Queens so special is its phenomenal diversity, and we will continue to insist on respect and dignity for all, period. Immigrant communities across Queens are here to stay."