Anti-bias advocates on the East End said they are bracing for a potential uptick in hate group activity after last weekend’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and an ongoing spate of racist incidents on the South Fork, which one town supervisor described as a “tinderbox.”
Advocates said they are concerned that the largest gathering of white supremacists in decades, which resulted in the death of a counter-protester, could exacerbate tensions that have festered both underground and out in the open in the community.
“These things have gone on, but there seems to be more of it and done more openly,” Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the NAACP, said Tuesday, referring to racist behaviors.
Officials in the towns of Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead and Southold said they continually monitor for hate activity, but have not had any reports of it since the weekend’s deadly violence in Charlottesville.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman described the region’s environment as “potentially explosive,” citing recent hate incidents and the Virginia rally, as well as increasing violence on Long Island by MS-13, a street gang largely made up of Latino immigrants.
He said Tuesday that change takes time and that attitudes seem to be moving “in the right direction” away from hate, albeit slowly.
There is a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Hampton Bays, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization that tracks hate groups. In June, a Latino man in Hampton Bays was assaulted by four white men shouting racial epithets. Fliers for the KKK and other white supremacist groups have been found in Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays, Amagansett and Montauk as recently as 2015 and 2016.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said “there’s no question” that the “overwhelming” community response to the Charlottesville violence was negative. A day later, peaceful protests were held in Greenport and Bridgehampton.
“Does that mean that there’s no one in our community who might support a different point of view?” Cantwell said. “I’m sure there are, but that should never stop us from speaking out for what is good about our country and calling out those who want to tear the fabric of our country down.”
Ware said “people should be on alert” and cautioned that signs of racism, including Confederate flag postings, have become more prevalent since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, who has faced mounting criticism for not condemning white supremacists in his remarks Tuesday at a news conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan, where he repeated previous comments faulting “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville.
Minerva Perez, executive director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, said “the real indicator” of attitudes will come when school is back in session in a few weeks because children often bully others based on what they hear at home.
“That fear that people here with misgivings about other races and cultures and religions could show themselves overtly is very scary, because it just starts shifting the ground under your feet,” she said. “ ‘is that something that could be accepted here?’ ”