Amid a surge in neo-Nazi activity across Massachusetts, US Attorney Rachael Rollins said Sunday she was planning to launch a hotline in the coming weeks for people to report white supremacist activities, and pledged federal resources to assist law enforcement.
“We need to expose these cowards,” Rollins said in a statement Sunday.
The announcement came less than a day after about 20 members of a neo-Nazi group held an anti-LGBTQ protest outside a children’s drag queen story hour in Jamaica Plain.
The demonstration followed a series of white supremacist activities in Boston, including the march of about 100 Patriot Front members through part of Boston on July 2, as well as a neo-Nazi demonstration outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital in February, and a contingent at the St. Patrick’s Day parade holding signs that said “Keep Boston Irish.”
Rollins also asked the public to notify law enforcement officials if they have any “troubling or concerning” information about such groups.
She said she stands ready to deploy federal resources to assist local authorities with arrests and prosecutions.
“Every single person deserves to live their life fully and authentically as who they are,” Rollins said. “But, if your authentic self is a bigot that wants to harm, humiliate, and terrorize people, you are not welcome here.”
The efforts by local leaders to combat extremism come amid growing extremist activity across the country, including Massachusetts.
The Anti-Defamation League reported that Massachusetts had the fourth-highest level of white supremacist activity in the country last year, behind Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas. Antisemitic incidents in the state also reached a historic high in 2021, the organization reported.
There have also been reports of anti-LGBTQ activities, including homophobic graffiti, left at the site of a planned LGBTQ-friendly senior housing facility in Hyde Park earlier this month.
A series of hate incidents have been reported across the state in recent weeks, including white supremacist propaganda left at homes in Danvers, Ipswich, Hamilton, and Chatham.
On Saturday in Jamaica Plain, Boston police arrested three people in connection with the event outside the historic Loring Greenough House, including the founder of NSC-131, Christopher R. Hood Jr., 23, of Pepperell. The group has been classified as a neo-Nazi group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
The protest was met across the street by dozens of counter-demonstrators, while police officers were at the scene. Two Boston residents who were part of the counter-demonstration — Seth Rosenau, 27, and Tobias Walker, 21 — were arrested.
The three are expected to be arraigned Monday at West Roxbury District Court, according to police.
Local leaders, including Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston, have condemned the hate group’s protest in Jamaica Plain.
Baker told reporters Saturday that federal agencies, state government, and local law enforcement pay close attention to hate groups, including “who they are, what they’re saying, and what they’re up to.”
White supremacists, he said, have no place in Massachusetts.
“The minute you start to engage in any activity that’s deemed to be violent, inappropriate, or hateful, people are going to stand up and get rid of you,” Baker said, according to remarks provided by his office.
Wu said in a statement Sunday that she is coordinating with Rollins on implementation of the hotline. On Saturday, she said the Boston Police Department’s civil rights unit is investigating “the targeting of the LGBTQ community members.”
On Sunday, local religious and civic leaders also blasted the activities of hate groups who have targeted communities of color, as well as the LGBTQ community and the Jewish community.
They said they are concerned that hate groups’ activities will grow more frequent and the community at large must step up and denounce extremism.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the children of the KKK showed up in Boston tomorrow,” said the Rev. Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition.
Peterson has been serving as an adviser to Charles Murrell, a local artist and activist who was allegedly assaulted by Patriot Front members near Copley Square on July 2.
“We must show the nation that Boston will not be an environment in which racism will be tolerated,” he said. “A clear message must be sent [to] ... encourage the people who live here to act in affirmative ways around opposing hate speech and actions that lead to humiliating human beings.”
Grace Moreno, executive director of the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, expressed frustration and anger with the hate group’s protest Sunday.
The community must come together in response to hate groups, she said in a phone interview.
“Hate will not win. We have to come up with a better strategy,” Moreno said. “They have found all their protections in the law. But I know the law was written for all of us. And the protections are there for us as well. We just need to find those angles.”
Robert Trestan, the New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, called groups like NSC-131 a threat to democracy.
People need to recognize what these groups are doing and take steps to ensure there are “consequences and accountability,” when a member of a hate group crosses a line, he said.
“Terror is designed to either make you run away, or change the way you act,” Trestan said.
Janson Wu, the executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), drew a connection between the hate group’s activities targeting the LGBTQ community to hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills being filed in state legislatures across the United States.
People must oppose all forms of hate-based speech and violence, he said.
“Free speech is an important constitutional right,” he said. “No one has the right to intimidate young children at a story time [event] in their own communities,” Wu said.
Bishop William Dickerson of Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester said he is most concerned about a demonstration spiraling into an outbreak of violence.
“The patience of our parents and grandparents and what they endured, a generation of young people are not going to tolerate the same thing,” he said.
Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch who is running for Massachusetts secretary of state against incumbent William Galvin, said the area’s law enforcement agencies need to implement a plan that includes public notification in advance of a hate group’s demonstration.
Law enforcement officials also need to better educate the public about these groups and what to do when they see them in action.
“This is an issue that needs to be taken very seriously, and it does require a specific safety plan of action,” Sullivan said. “This is not going to go away because we say that this type of ideology isn’t welcome.”
The Rev. Miniard Culpepper, senior pastor at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Dorchester, applauded the counter-protesters who came out against the group that demonstrated in Jamaica Plain Saturday.
Culpepper, a state Senate candidate in the Second Suffolk district, said lawmakers should respond to these demonstrations through legislation and “make Massachusetts uncomfortable to these groups.”
“We need to strengthen our hate laws in Massachusetts, so strong that white supremacists are intimidated about coming to Massachusetts to do these kinds of hateful marches,” he said.
Gretchen Van Ness, the executive director of LGBTQ Senior Housing, the organization planning the housing development that was tagged with anti-LGBTQ graffiti earlier this month, said the overwhelming majority of people “do not want this hate.”
“The majority wants a beloved community,” she said. “It’s being able to talk to your neighbors, and get to know people one on one.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick Stoico can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.