PROVIDENCE — A group of about 20 masked people performed Nazi salutes, hoisted a flag with swastikas, and pounded on windows, interrupting a reading of “The Communist Manifesto at a nonprofit community library in Providence on Monday.
The reading of the book by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is an annual event in many places on the anniversary of the book’s publication. The sound of individuals banging on the glass windows of the library interrupted the library’s live stream at 42 minutes and 12 seconds. The live stream moderator posted comments, “Sorry, the reading is attempted to be interrupted by fascists,” and “They are currently on our sidewalk.”
Alexander Herbert, who the library lists as a member, posted a video of the encounter on Twitter.
Warning: Video includes graphic language
On Tuesday afternoon, Herbert announced plans to host an “emergency community forum” on Zoom to brainstorm ideas to improve safety at the venue. The meeting will be held Feb. 26 at 11 p.m. It is open to all community members. Guests can register online.
According to a Providence Police report, officers were informed that neo-Nazis would be at the Red Ink Community Library, 130 Camp St., to interrupt individuals who were inside attending a reading. Dispatchers alerted responding officers that they received calls for a disturbance.
The first officers to arrive said they observed 15-20 individuals, from the neo-Nazi group, standing outside striking the window of the library with their hands, the police report states. Police arrived with emergency lights on and the crowd began to disperse.
Officers did not find any damage to the building. Law enforcement remained on the scene until 8:15 p.m.
Library Executive Director David Raileanu said six or seven people attended the event in person, while another 10 participated online. They were surprised by banging on the exterior windows of the former police substation in the Mount Hope neighborhood.
“Initially, it was terrifying,” Raileanu said. “It was a very stark display of terror and hatred and violence. And the fact that we were in a small enclosed space, and clearly outnumbered, felt like violence was potentially inevitable at that point. It was a difficult emotion to process at that time.”
Raileanu estimates 30 people were gathered outside. All of them wore masks, some with skeletons and the numbers “131″ printed on them.
At least two library guests spoke back to the crowd. The incident was cleared at approximately 7:15 p.m., Raileanu said.
“We did have a chance as a group to talk about what we heard,” he said. “And we had a quick debrief of what happened. There was a spectrum of emotions. There was fear and anxiety. There were a couple of members who were fired up about confronting these disruptors. There was a range of emotions on how best to address and confront situations like this in the future.”
The approximately 500-square-foot space is built against the side of a hill and has one exit.
“As a person whose family history goes back over 100 years in the Jewish community of Providence, I was particularly affected,” Raileanu said. “I know the Mount Hope community and Camp Street has worked diligently over the years to reduce violence in the community. That’s what we hoped to be part of when we moved in.
“To be a party to a situation where there was violence on Camp Street, we regret our part in it. We aren’t going to take responsibility for the actions of violent thugs but we are going to do everything we can to minimize this happening again.”
A video of the incident was posted on Twitter by @guateguanaco, who stated that the protesters blocked off the library’s entrance and demanded to be let inside.
He said those inside were “outnumbered 5:1.”
Politicians and candidates for public office came forward to condemn the neo-Nazi group.
“There is no place for hate in our communities or our state,” Governor Dam McKee said. “The video showing a group waving Nazi flags last night in Providence is unacceptable and disgusting. I stand with those condemning last night’s acts.”
In a statement posted on Twitter, Mayor Jorge Elorza said, “Providence is home to diverse people, cultures, and ideas and our city has no room for hate-filled actions mean to intimidate and cause fear. My administration is committed to making every resident feel safe and protecting the rights of people who are gathering peacefully.”
He said anyone with information about the incident “involving a swastika flag” is encouraged to call the police.
In an emailed statement Congressman David N. Cicilline said, “I am absolutely sickened by the image of the swastika waving in the streets of Providence. Hate groups like neo-Nazis and white supremacists have no place in our city.
“Groups like these and the hatred they spew have too often led to terrible violence. The rise of neo-Nazis, white supremacy and antisemitism in our country is not something we can afford to ignore. This hatred and last night’s attack are a scourge on our community, and we must all condemn it in the strongest terms.”
In a statement, The Black Lives Matter RI PAC said: “There is no greater threat to Rhode Island than nazism and white supremacy. Yesterday evening, an organized group of Neo-Nazis that have established themselves throughout Rhode Island terrorized Red Ink Community Library in Providence Ward 3.”
Adam Greenman, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Rhode Island, said he woke up to text messages from a concerned community.
The Jewish Community Center is located less than a mile from the Red Ink Community Library.
“Anytime we see this kind of demonstration by Neo-Nazis, it’s concerning to us whether it happens in Providence or anywhere in the state,” Greenman said. “Every community needs to condemn this. This rise in hate is happening more and more often across the country. We are seeing more of this locally than we have seen in years.”
“We have to stand up and fight it,” he added.
On Jan. 15, the FBI killed a man who took four hostages at Congregation Beth Israel, a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The hostages escaped.
Greenman said Jewish synagogues statewide have doubled efforts to keep temples safe since the attack.
“The fact acts of hate haven’t been condemned every single time it happens is one of the things that leads to folks being emboldened and demonstrating in this way,” he said. “We want to say very loudly and clearly, there shouldn’t be any place for this in Rhode Island, a state founded by religious freedom.”
Greenman said even though his community wasn’t threatened, they need to be prepared.
“I would much rather be bringing people together for celebrations or times of joy,” he said. “The unfortunate reality is that in this day and age we have to come together when incidents like this happen.”
One post said, “The Nazis continued to put on their show until Providence Police asked them to leave. While we didn’t ask for help from the police, it was only the threat of state violence that ended this disruption.”
The Red Ink Community Library invited the public to an in-person and live stream reading and discussion of the manifesto on Feb. 13. The reading was to take place beginning at 6 p.m. on Feb. 21, the 174th anniversary of the publishing of the book that spells out Communism’s goals, and “formed the basis for the modern communist movement as we know it, arguing that capitalism would inevitably self-destruct, to be replaced by socialism and ultimately communism,” according to The British Library.
“Red Books Day” is celebrated by thousands of people around the globe, and commemorates the publication of the book on Feb. 21, 1848.
The library provided free copies of the manifesto to anyone who signed up for the event.
Just in response to the weird projections: They blocked off the entrance and demanded we let them inside into a *library.* Door pulls inside, doesn't push outside. We were outnumbered 5:1.— Third Int’l Players Anthem (@guateguanaco) February 22, 2022
A group outside the library threatened to knock out those inside and began chanting “one three one,” “scumbags,” “communists,” and profanities targeting guests and a female reader.
At least one guest inside the library responded to the grouop, who were on the other side of a glass door. Others recorded the incident on their phones.
The chant “one three one” could be a reference to the New England-based neo-Nazi group, “Nationalist Social Club,” which uses the number “131″ on its banner.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the NSC New England group in 2021 claimed a six-state geographic region that includes New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont.
After a woman finished reading a passage from “The Communist Manifesto,” the man who was to read next said, “Thank you, everyone, for joining us. Fifty Nazis just descended outside so we’re going to finish this with a discussion afterward.”
He read a short excerpt and the video feed was cut off.
The Red Ink Community Library on Cypress Street has been open since Sept. 4, 2021, and is dedicated to “developing, informing and empowering a prominent and energetic working class,” according to its website. It is “not government-affiliated and accepts no funding from government organizations.”
According to Raileanu, the library is a venue that hosts book presentations, film screenings, informational meetings, and light-hearted events like Halloween movie nights and plays. They are also an organizing space that shares space with local political organizations and facilities conversations.
“While we knew of and wanted to highlight the relevance and importance of the Manifesto today, we did not want it to be so stark, so ugly,” the library said in a statement posted on Twitter.