NEW BEDFORD — A neo-Nazi hate group that has been active across New England started recruitment in New Bedford on Wednesday morning, leaving flyers on porches and doorsteps near Buttonwood Park. The mayor said in a statement that he condemned the group and promptly reported the incident to the FBI.
“The messages in these materials have no place in New Bedford, and I stand with all those in our City in categorically condemning the attempt to enlist support for them,” wrote Mitchell. “The City promptly brought this incident to the attention of the FBI and remains in communication with the Bureau.”
The mayor added that “similar leaflets have been discovered elsewhere in Massachusetts recently, and we do not have reason to believe that those responsible have any particular connection to New Bedford. Wherever they are from, they are not welcome in our City.”
Several community members noticed the flyers, which were inside small plastic bags and weighed down with pebbles. They were found on porches and driveways early Wednesday morning, indicating they were distributed before sunrise. The printed message advertised the organization as a “pro-white street-oriented fraternity” and solicited white-only, male members: “If you are a man of European descent in the New England area that wishes to see a better future for your people, contact us,” the flyers read.
Lt. Scott Carola of the New Bedford Police Department said it’s the first time he’s seen the group, NSC 131, in New Bedford, though this chapter has been active in Providence, Boston, and Fall River, including disrupting a drag event at the Fall River Library in January of this year.
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Other leaders spoke out against the group, including Ward 5 councilor Scott Lima. “I condemn all acts of hatred against any group of people,” said Lima, who had not yet heard of the recruitment efforts when he was reached by The Light. “What they’ve done is hurtful, and the entire community will rally and come together. We will beat this.”
“This is so sad that hate groups are in our backyard,” said Helena DaSilva Hughes, of New Bedford’s Immigrant Assistance Center. “It’s scary.”
DaSilva Hughes said she believes hate organizations take advantage of political division and vulnerability, and attributes their boldness to ongoing political conflicts at all levels of government. “It’s very sad where this country is,” she said.
A migrant crisis in Massachusetts, she said, has stirred up fringe opposition, including migrants being sheltered in Fairhaven. DaSilva Hughes added that registering and voting in elections is necessary to ensure that hate movements do not gain ground.
NSC 131 is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which in a 2020 report noted the group for its efforts at “flyering,” or spreading hateful messages through leaflets and banners: “NSC 131 … distributed flyers over 130 times in states across the country, including Massachusetts, New York, Arkansas and New Hampshire.”
The group rose to prominence in 2021 after several members claimed involvement in the January 6th insurrection. Its leader, Christopher Hood, was arrested on weapons charges after he was found with an illegal, spring-loaded knife while “flyering” in Boston in 2019, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In describing itself, other group members have said, “We’re pretty much a frat, just racist.”
One of the community members who found the messages was Lee Torda, who said, “I thought of my neighbors with their little kids, and this is the first thing they see, and that sort of horrified me.” Torda and another neighbor said they removed upwards of 50 flyers from porches, driveways and yards.
She added, “I think they’re cowards, driving up the street in the middle of the night. They don’t have the courage of their convictions, nor should they.”
In Massachusetts, there have been 248 hate incidents so far this year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That includes 158 cases of “white supremacist propaganda,” 82 incidents of antisemitism, and five anti-LGBTQ+ incidents.
According to its Heat Map tracking tool, this is the first occurrence of any recruitment or hate speech in New Bedford in 2023.
In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked NSC 131’s “flyering” campaign since 2018, during which time the group has over 200 similar public activities. Nearly 70 of these took place in Massachusetts.
Torda, the local resident, said she doesn’t think these beliefs represent New Bedford. “I really cherish how much of a neighborhood New Bedford feels like. It feels like a community, and these people cannot be from this area.”
Still, she added that discovering the hate campaign “was a shock, and I was more disturbed than I thought I was going to be.”
Email Colin Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org.