ONEIDA, N.Y. – The Ku Klux Klan has embarked on a recruitment campaign in upstate New York in recent months, dropping off packets of white supremacist propaganda and sweetening the material with bars of Snickers in an initiative seemingly aimed at young people.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday ordered state police to investigate and directed the state police Hate Crimes Task Force to kick off a “public awareness campaign” to counter hate.
The flyers were distributed in Oneida and other counties, the governor’s office said.
“While President Trump and Republicans in Washington sow divisiveness and hate that is spreading like a cancer across the country, in New York we say not here, not now, not ever,” Cuomo said in a news release.
“New York has zero tolerance for intolerance.”
The state police are offering help to local police and county sheriff’s offices. The task force plans a town hall in Oneida County to discuss the issue and send teams to the region to conduct an educational outreach campaign. Oneida’s county seat is Utica and the county is near Syracuse, in the middle of the state.
‘Stand up and come together’
The flyers shocked residents of all ages and prompted them to mobilize against the group and its apparent effort to target children. Residents described the outrage in the town of Westmoreland and their determination to stand together.
“The KKK is a terrorist organization, and even dropping off these materials itself is terrifying, especially when you find something like this in your driveway in the morning,” said Ron Klopfanstein, a teacher, journalist and president of the local historical society.
“It requires a response, and the only way to get through that fear is to stand up and come together. I think the worst part is that a lot of kids found it on the way to the bus in the morning.”
Klopfanstein said community members gathered in Westmoreland to denounce the group.
“We’re a good town, we’re good people, and when something like this happens, sometimes you have to make a statement to remind people that we won’t have this here,” he said.
“Westmoreland stood up to this, and we stood with (the nearby city of) Rome the first time they were faced with this. We are all in this together and ready to stand together to keep hate groups out of Central New York.”
‘Naive’ to think Klan isn’t here
Denise Szarek, a member of the Westmoreland Board of Education, said the Klan campaign with its candy bars seemed to be targeting youths. Most alarmingly, she said, the material contained “recruiting information” and not just propaganda.
“They come between 4 and 6 in the morning so the candy bars and packets are at the end of the driveway when kids are getting on the school bus. The community they hit was a mobile home park so there were a lot of kids in the area, and they hit on some of the side roads, too. Our feeling was that the children (were) being targeted — at least the high school and middle school kids in that age group,” Szarek said.
Klan materials, she said, are easy to retrieve from the web.
“My theory is that it’s someone local who’s downloading them, printing them out and passing it around,” Szarek said. “I mean, it really could be anyone. But I think we’re naïve if we think that KKK members aren’t here, aren’t present in our communities.”
Cuomo’s office urged state residents who have experienced bias or discrimination and want to file a complaint to call the Division of Human Rights toll-free hotline at (888) 392-3644 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, or text “HATE” to 81336.