Brookings police say members of a white supremacist group known as Patriot Front, tried to generate fear and violence among residents prior to Friday’s peaceful protest in the college town.
Rumors circulated through social media claimed outsiders were descending on local community protests in KELOLAND, to damage property or commit other acts of violence. Police in Brookings tracked the efforts of white nationalists leading up to Friday’s protest.
Brookings police say members of the hate group, Patriot Front, slapped these stickers on sign posts throughout town last week.
Members of the same group are also believed to be behind a letter handed out to Brookings business owners telling them that protest organizers were keeping their plans “secret” to “facilitate acts of rioting.” The unsigned letter also recommends boarding up windows and putting signs like “minority owned” on them.
“There seems to be an intentional misinformation campaign that is telling business leaders, law enforcement and militia groups that protesters are coming from out of town and being bused in for looting specific communities. I think what their hope is, is that those types of rumors will scare local communities and create a response or heightened tension and it’s possible violence could occur.”Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org
Matt Hildreth is a Brookings native and founder of RuralOrganizing.org, a national advocacy nonprofit.
“For years, I myself was a little bit naive about my home town. And the fact is, these people are there. They’re relatively a small part of the population, but as we can see they have the ability to influence the community” HIldreth said.
Brookings business owner Jacob Limmer and his family took part in Friday’s peaceful protest.
Limmer: I saw two men with assault riffles, clearly openly carried and skull face masks associated with that group
Kennecke: What did you think, what went through your mind?
Limmer: I thought it was completely abhorrent. I don’t think they had any place there. I certainly respect their first amendment rights, but they were a terrible negative presence at that protest.
While these masked white nationalists are a minor presence in a peaceful protest, their influence on social media through spreading rumors and misinformation can be a major influence.
“It’s a new generation of white supremacy. In the past, people hid behind hoods. And today they’re hiding behind social media accounts,” Hildreth said.
Brookings police say they are looking for the individuals who put up the propaganda stickers on city sign poles, but doing so is only a misdemeanor.