LEWISTON – In response to a flyer advertising the presence of Ku Klux Klan members at the upcoming Lewiston Peach Festival, members of a grassroots advocacy group focused on organizing people for racial justice say they will appear in a peaceful capacity.
A spokesperson for the local chapter of the national network Showing Up For Racial Justice, or SURJ, said Thursday its Western New York members will be among what are expected to be record crowds at the 62nd annual festival. They intend to discuss "dangerous recruitment efforts by white supremacist groups" with attendees.
Brigitte Holbert, a SURJ member from the Town of Wilson, said Thursday that history has shown hate groups can build power if they are ignored.
"People feel more comfortable looking the other way but that gives them free reign to keep recruiting, and keep terrorizing our communities," Holbert said.
Members will walk among the crowds distributing SURJ leaflets and inviting people to join their efforts to end white supremacy, the spokesperson said.
Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte said Thursday he did not anticipate any racist rally would take place at the festival and was confident the event would be a safe, tolerant environment.
"We’ve taken every precaution," he said.
Earlier this week, at least 20 flyers indicating KKK "representatives" would "make their presence known" at the festival surfaced in the area.
The flyer showed a drawing of a hooded individual in KKK attire and the phrase: "THE KKK WANTS YOU." It encouraged residents of the "historically white Lewiston, N.Y.," to "feel free to approach our members, who will be making their presence known, if you would like to join our white pride movement."
The police department released a statement early Thursday saying the document was determined not to be related to a supremacist group and to be produced by an individual or individuals who have "done this in the past" and have "their own agenda." He declined to elaborate on how the determination was made.
Previte said the flyer constituted protected speech and did not amount to criminal activity, however two individuals making violent threats in response to the letter were identified and questioned by law enforcement.
One person of interest was located in the City of Buffalo, another in the City of Rochester. No charges are expected to be filed against either individual at this time, Previte said.
According to a federal law enforcement official that spoke to the newspaper earlier this week, similar letters have appeared elsewhere in the state and the nation, particularly in rural communities, including outside Rochester. A spokesperson for the Buffalo Field office of the FBI, Maureen Dempsey, has said local agents are aware of the matter.
This is the fourth flyer with racist language to appear in Lewiston and cause concern in the past two years. In May of 2017, flyers appeared at homes in Lewiston that said, "The Aryan Resistance is proud to endorse Board of Education candidates," listing the names of two individuals who subsequently disavowed the printing and the group.
The flyer document said, "The effort to keep blacks out of your community begins by keeping them out of the classroom" and included symbols associated with the Nazi Party.
In March of 2017, Lewiston was papered with "White Lives Matter" flyers by a known affiliate of with the Aryan Renaissance Society, a neo-Nazi hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the historic Alabama-based civil rights not-for-profit advocacy organization.
In April of this year, a flyer with swastikas and the phrase, "Welcome to Racist Lewiston" appeared in mailboxes. It included three statements: "more blacks on the basketball team than Lew-Port teachers;" "more blacks on the basketball team than Lewiston residents;" and "If you can't play basketball, stay out of Lewiston."
The flyer was decried as "filth" by school district officials.
Niagara Gazette Reporter Rick Pfeiffer contributed to this story.