By Linda Cicoira — It started with bird droppings of racial trash being distributed across the Eastern Shore of Virginia and linked to the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina last Saturday and progressed to flowering plants calling for peace and love.
“I don’t know of white supremacy groups on the Shore,” Accomack Sheriff Todd Godwin said Monday after dozens of bags of Ku Klux Klan literature weighted with birdseed were apparently thrown from a pickup truck last Saturday, March 30, and into the yards and driveways of local residents. “They can stay out of here,” he added.
Sheriff David Doughty had a similar reaction. “Not to my knowledge” is there a local group, he said Tuesday. His workers began receiving reports from citizens at around 6 p.m. last Saturday about “suspicious zip lock bags containing bird seed and small pieces of paper that had verbiage depicting hate propaganda. The material appears to contain recruiting and racial hate material published in connection with the Ku Klux Klan,” Doughty said in a prepared statement Monday.
The literature was associated with the Loyal White Nights of Pelham, N.C., which is near Danville, Va., in the western part of Virginia.
There were reports of a red, burgundy, or maroon pickup that was involved. About 140 bags were collected in Northampton County.
Councilman Rich Selinsky, of Hallwood, in Accomack County, found a bag that had been “casually tossed into the road by a passing vehicle” Saturday afternoon. “The bag is weighted with birdseed. I saw the bag flutter as a burgundy pickup went by Stanley’s shop (Stanley Young’s store in Hallwood) … maybe an early 2000s Chevy or GMC short bed. Didn’t catch the plates.”
At a council meeting Monday night, Vice Mayor Ben Ellis, of Chincoteague, voiced his distress with the distribution of the bags. “I don’t think it’s something we want or need on Chincoteague. … It’s just hateful propaganda,” Ellis told a crowd of about 30. He said the bags were thrown into yards and put under vehicle windshield wipers on the island. Twenty or more bags had been recovered.
Although the literature is an expression of free speech, leaving it scattered around is considered littering and a charge for each bag could be made. Godwin said he has called the phone number associated with the literature and left a message asking for a callback.
The Eastern Shore Post called the number as well. A recorded woman’s voice immediately answered and asked for a name. The phone then rang about five times before a man’s voice asked for the caller to join the group, “if you are white and proud” and advertised a radio show. An inquiry was left but a call back was not received by press time Thursday.
“This is an effort to promote hate and division in our community,” Doughty said. “I would encourage our citizens to remain strong and united against this type of behavior. This is not who we are or who we want to be affiliated with. This type of activity will not be condoned or tolerated by law enforcement.”
“There is a right to freedom of speech,” said Godwin. “But that doesn’t make it right.”
Reports that the bags were found came from Franktown, Eastville, Cape Charles, and Machipongo in Northampton. They also came from Cashville, Daugherty, Withams, Chincoteague, Pungoteague, Belle Haven, and Onley in Accomack.
The website that was provided on the document denies being a hate group but states “we do hate some things that certain groups are doing to our race and our nation. We hate drugs, homosexuality, abortion, and race-mixing because these things go against God’s law and they are destroying all white nations. But rather than focus on hate, we try to focus on the love of our race. We Love for our Lord and Savior and our Country.”
On social media, the reaction was overwhelmingly one of outrage. “My 12-year-old found one in our front yard today,” Heather Mary Baumgardner wrote from Onley. “Better keep their hate out of VA!!!”
“Disgusting hate speech,” wrote Debbie Wilkerson, of New Church. “We do not want you here!”
“My childhood town of Exmore doesn’t need these Neo-Nazis who spread hate and bigotry,” wrote Al Truitt.
“Sounds like whomever did this trying to bring more divide,” wrote Stacy Maurice of Belle Haven. “I’m thinking this is a hoax to make it seem the supporters of our president are redneck racists. It is easy to find a group online and get all their info and fake a phony document to cause hatred towards one group…. grasping at straws so whomever is responsible is getting exactly what they wanted from our community. Don’t let this divide us.”
“Disgusting,” wrote Roxane Gillet Mostrom, a Chincoteague native, who lives in Maryland.
“This is disgusting,” wrote Lauren Gloria Williams, of New Church. “I genuinely hope a member of the KKK tries to talk to me ‘cause I got something for them.”
“This does not surprise me at all,” wrote Shirl Dix, of Whitesville in Accomack County.
“The fish rots from the top,” wrote Stefanie Hadden, of Cape Charles.
“This just sickens me!” wrote Janet Sturgis, of Northampton.
Maryland State Police reported from Easton that they are investigating racist literature distributed in Talbot County last weekend in similar fashion. On Sunday morning, March 31, a St. Michaels’ resident reported the literature had been found in driveways in the community.
“The printed material indicates it is produced by the Ku Klux Klan,” the state police wrote in a prepared statement. “It espouses racist views toward African Americans, Jewish people, American Indians, and others. The material also solicits people to join the KKK. The flyers were found in clear plastic baggies. The bags also contained birdseed, which provides weight, enabling the package to be thrown into a driveway and remain there.”
“The trooper forwarded information from his investigation to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, the state’s fusion center, where local, state and federal authorities, including the FBI, were made aware of the incident … This is being documented as a hate/bias incident … however, the investigation has not established evidence that a crime has been committed. Troopers and allied law enforcement agencies will continue to document incidents like this and investigate them thoroughly. If elements of a crime are found, immediate action will be taken in cooperation with the local state’s attorney’s office.”
By Tuesday morning, Sherry Morgan, of Onancock, reported on Facebook about flowering plants that were “all over Onancock downtown this morning. How sweet. What a kind dear soul, that would spread so much love. God bless their soul.” The plants held signs with messages like, “Spread Love,” “Teach Peace,” and “We Are United.”
They were traced back to Onancock resident Courtney Hammer and her three children. Hammer said they encountered the KKK packages at their home and walked around town and collected more to throw away.
“There are people who do bad things. It’s easy for people to be quiet. I’ve never been that person.”
Her young son started asking questions and she had to explain that “racism is all around us.” She asked her children what they could do to share love, and together they came up with the idea of leaving flowers for people to find. Soon people were posting and sharing their flower finds on social media sites.
They don’t do it for the accolades, said Hammer. Their first outing, they really didn’t see anyone else. “It’s like hiding Easter eggs. You look for just the right spot to leave it.”
As she and her kids head back out tomorrow with more “love bombs,” as she calls them, she is energized by the idea that others are taking a page from her book.
“A teacher has her students doing it. A friend in North Carolina is going to do it. That’s what’s cool about social media,” she said. “Those flowers weren’t out 24 hours and people started sharing. I think that’s how you pay it forward.”