Earlier this month it was reported, first on social media, then by local news agencies, that recruitment flyers from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) were found in neighborhoods across St. Mary’s County. In reaction and as a show of solidarity, a Unity Vigil was quickly planned by local faith leaders and the St. Mary’s County chapter of the NAACP to show that hate has no place in our county.
The flyers were found in multiple neighborhoods, each in clear plastic bags that were weighed down with birdseed, promoting the KKK’s messages of racism and hatred. The flyers contained many racially charged statements, such as “White pride doesn’t mean hate,” “Wake up and stop letting these third world savages walk all over your people! You are your own worst enemy if you do not join us to fight for your rights as a White American!,” “Stand up for your rights and the rights of your children, Join today.”
They also listed crime statistics attempting to prove their racist beliefs regarding the danger of black men, including claims about rape that harken back to the themes shown in “The Birth of a Nation,” a silent film from 1915, which celebrated the Klan as a savior for vulnerable white women. At the bottom of the flyers they listed their national hotline, a website, a radio program and further calls to action.
The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s department has said they are investigating, but as many other police departments have noted, though reprehensible, there is little to be done about the dissemination of the flyers as the creators are protected by the First Amendment. The Enterprise spoke with Cpl. Julie Yingling, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s department, during which she noted that “There have been no threats” and that the police department was “investigating the origin of them.” The article also mentioned the painting of the letters ‘KKK’ on highway signs along Medley’s Neck Road, which is being investigated as an act of vandalism. Similar flyers advertising the KKK have been distributed is counties across Maryland, making this a problem each community must face up to.
Photographs of the flyers were widely publicized by a local Facebook group, The Southern Maryland People’s Assembly (SMPA), with their own message stating “Please be vigilant. These are not hokey anachronisms from a movie— these are violent terrorists who are trying to recruit your neighbors, and whose goal is ethnic cleansing of people of color, Jews, LGBT folks, and anyone who disagrees with them.” Across the country people voiced their outrage at the hateful sentiments and attempts to recruit more members. Soon enough a small coalition came together to organize a Unity Vigil as a way to bring together people for a stand against hatred.
The Unity Vigil was a group effort on the part of the local NAACP chapter and faith leaders from many different denominations, including the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists, the Dominion Apostolic Ministries and more. It was held in Leonardtown square, where nearly 200 people showed up in support of the message of “No Hate in St. Mary’s.”
Organizers handed out candles that were lit as vigil-goers sang “We Shall Overcome,” and held their lights aloft as a sign of light’s ability to always shine through the darkness. As the candles burned through the darkness, the faith leaders words rang out, “Diversity makes us stronger, not weaker. We have come too far to turn back now, and as a human being and an American citizen, I have to use my voice and say ‘There is not room for hate here.’” There were calls for the religious community to raise their voices and stand on the right side of history, as well as an emphasis on looking out for one another, regardless of race, class, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.
Many government officials spoke out as well, with Representative Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland’s fifth-district releasing a statement saying “the racist fliers distributed in communities throughout Maryland are unacceptable and must be condemned by all. Hate has no place in our communities. We must come together to denounce this racist and hateful rhetoric and ensure all families in Maryland feel safe in their communities.”
The Point News also reached out to newly elected delegate for district 29B, Brian Crosby (D), as his district includes St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Crosby expressed his discontent with the flyers, acknowledging that he was not surprised, as the issue was not specific to St. Mary’s County, mentioning the appearance of these flyers across the state. When asked why he chose to participate in the Unity Vigil, Crosby responded by explaining “I’m now a leader in the community and this place doesn’t deserve this. The people should feel welcome.” He continued by stating, “I need to speak up for those who can’t; speak up for those who have elected me for a leader, because if I don’t show up when people are scared, willing to fight for them, what am I doing? It’s time to do the job, and this is part of it. When people are fearful or oppressed, it’s time to stand up.” He also explained his belief that education should be at the forefront of the fight to combat hatred and bigotry, highlighting the need to diversify classrooms, respond to the needs of different communities and create “meaningful and impactful change.” He concluded by saying that “The only way to combat it (racial hatred) is to stand up against it.” He pointed to the fact that 200+ candles were distributed, saying “this reminds them that we are the majority” and that “a whole host of people will stand up against this nonsense. They have a voice to, and they won’t tolerate this.”