It is easy to believe that our island is an isolated locale, that nothing that happens here can possibly influence the outside world.
However, this is a dangerous underestimation. Seemingly small actions can and do have far-reaching consequences.
This weekend, there will be a meeting led by a self-described free speech group called Patriot Prayer.
Ostensibly, the meeting is about the recent gun control measure passed in our state and will encourage attendees to pressure local county officials to pass local pro-gun resolutions.
However, this group represents far more. Patriot Prayer rallies elsewhere regularly attract far-right and anti-government groups such as the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, and a host of white supremacist individuals. Members of both the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys were involved in the deadly Charlottesville, Va. riot.
Although Patriot Prayer claims to have distanced itself from the Proud Boys, Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer, proclaimed proudly “I will never turn my back on you!” to an audience of Proud Boys less than one year ago.
What does one call a group that denies supporting violence one moment, yet vows allegiance to it the next?
What is a group that claims not to support white supremacists, yet allows them to overrun their events?
We are not here to decry those who want less gun control. It is every citizen’s right to advocate for or against gun control. This debate is about a growing acceptance and normalization of racism, white nationalism, deadly hate groups and their infiltration of other issues. What we are here to protest is the creeping scourge of hatred and bigotry masquerading as a peaceful meeting for like-minded, law-abiding citizens.
Patriot Prayer may be in town to talk about firearms, but they bring with them a history of violence and community division. We cannot stand by and idly watch as such things begin to take root on our island.
We call upon community leaders, elected officials and citizens to take a stand against bigotry and hatred in our community, and to uphold the principles of equality and justice for all.