This week, a banner was placed on a walk bridge in St. Cloud stating "No More Refugees" and "Americans First". While this is not surprising, what is truly sickening is that banner was put there by members of Identity Evropa, the white nationalist group that marched on Charlottesville this summer.
Although news of this banner is being spread around social media today, we've actually known about this banner for a couple of days. Why didn't we share it? Here's the backstory.
We received a Facebook message with a picture of the banner and the location of its placement. As soon as we received the message, a #unitecloud team member drove to the location and saw that the banner was no longer up. Another #unitecloud team member investigated the Facebook account that we got the message from and found it to be a fake account (no friends, only a profile and cover photo).
The #unitecloud leadership team was alerted to the happenings, and weighed in on what our response should be. We decided at that time that Identity Evropa was attempting to have us do their dirty work for them. They wanted us to post the picture of the banner, because they know the reach we have in this area. Of course, they knew (if we posted it) that we would condemn it - "I know you guys post about this type of stuff so I wanted to make you aware", this person said. The real person behind this fake Facebook account knows that local Central MN folks with white nationalist leanings keep close tabs on #unitecloud - and that they would see this banner and, in turn, they hoped for recruits.
If you go to the Identity Evropa website, there is a section to "apply". Clicking on this page made me immediately sick to my stomach.
Over the last couple of days, we have heard that other organizations that promote Central MN as a welcoming place for ALL people also received the same picture and messages that we did. This was a coordinated recruiting effort in Central MN by a well-known white nationalist group, and the very people and organizations that are against this type of single-minded thinking were the ones they were attempting to rope into the recruitment process.
Fastforward to today - a person from the Twin Cities posted a picture of the banner to Facebook. They also said that "later, people who were either responsible for the banner drop or emboldened by it, were heard outside a comrades apartment yelling derogatory remarks and implicit threats." We had not heard this, but, again, it is not surprising - this ridiculous behavior has been happening for years in our area.
In reading the comments on the Facebook post, there were comments about how horribly racist St. Cloud is and claimed that our area is a lost cause and has always been a lost cause. If we believed that, we wouldn't continue our work here in Central MN.
So, who are we, Central MN? Are we an area ripe for white nationalist recruiting? Yes. Are we an area with a racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic, homophobic, and Islamophobic history? Yes. Are we an area that may be the next site of a Charlottesville-type rally? Yes.
That being said, are we an area that has many people fighting to ensure this area is a welcoming place for all? Yes! Are we an area that fought AND WON against a City Council member who wanted to enact the very thing this banner espoused? Yes! Will we continue to stand up for our neighbors, learn more about our neighbors, and, yes, even love our neighbors? Yes, yes, and yes!
Does a blog like this fire you up but you aren't sure what to do to help this ongoing situation? Here are some action steps:
1. Attend our Central MN Green Card Voices exhibit opening on Friday, January 5th from 4-6pm at the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud. View the Facebook event here.
2. Be a guest blogger for #unitecloud, making your welcoming spirit known and/or telling a story about how you choose to stand up for/get to know/actively love your neighbors. E-mail us at email@example.com for more information. Not a writer? Share one of our blogs on your social media to start an important conversation.
3. Bring #unitecloud to your community! Invite a #unitecloud speaker to come to your town, faith center, place of business, etc. More information on our #unitecloud speaking team available here. You can also bring the Central MN Green Card Voices traveling exhibit to you! More info here.
4. Get your #LoveYourNeighbor yard sign or bumper sticker today! The signs look amazing in the snow:) You can order online or visit one of our amazing local business that have the #LYN merchandise available for purchase. More info here.
5. Support our ability to continue to ensure Central MN is a welcoming place for all by giving online here or sending a check made out to #unitecloud to PO Box 851, St. Cloud, MN 56302. Any size gift is welcome and so very helpful and is also tax-deductable!