Maybe I should have seen this coming. Politics is rough stuff, and I’ve been around the block often enough to know that small-town politics is often worse.
A couple of weeks ago, somebody started duct-taping creepy white supremacist flyers over my wife’s lawn signs.
The wife in question – one Julia Reischel – is running for Middletown town board this November, on the same independent ticket as Miguel Martinez, who’s running for tax assessor. She’s one of three candidates for two seats. Up til now, the campaign trail has been mostly sunshine and puppies.
“You will not replace us,” the flyers blared, over a photo of a white couple with a baby, and a string of hard-right and white nationalist web addresses. They appeared in the night on a couple of signs: one in the Fleischmanns yard of a former village mayor, and another on Route 28. The first she was tempted to ignore. The second got her mad – and soon, the rest of town was fired up, too.
A few minutes’ work with Google image search reveals, unsurprisingly, that these obnoxious leaflets are part of a loosely organized flyering campaign floating around the internet this spring, spread on message boards and forums and Twitter accounts by a bunch of self-styled “alt-right” noisemakers.
Who can say what the goal is here? It might be a recruitment tactic. It might be an effort at intimidating “liberals” – or whatever descriptive term applies, in the nastier corners of the hard-right internet, to people who don’t care for the idea that white straight non-Jewish people should rule over the rest of us. It might just be trolling for trolling’s sake.
Odds are it’s all of these things somewhere in the world, because anybody with a printer and a pulse can download a flyer and tape it up somewhere public in the dead of night, and their private reasons will forever remain inscrutable.
When this internet campaign got going in May, months before white supremacists swarmed across the University of Virginia chanting “You will not replace us,” the same flyers that would later cause such a stir in Fleischmanns popped up at several universities, taped to bulletin boards and buildings. They alarmed students at Southern Methodist University, and at the University of Texas in Arlington. At Temple, where they were found posted in halls near faculty offices, professors wondered whether the history department had been targeted specifically.
We wondered, too. Were they targeting Miguel, whose brown Scots-Puerto Rican face currently beams with irrepressible delight at all of westbound Route 28 from a billboard in Arkville? Did they think Julia was Jewish? (A descendant of Czech atheists, the closest she got was attending rather a lot of bat mitzvahs in middle school.) Were the Reischel/Martinez signs just so numerous that they made a convenient target? It felt menacing, but in a vague way.
Another round of flyers, which came to light a few days later, was equally menacing-ish. One was found on the house of yet another former mayor of Fleischmanns – an unlikely coincidence, but one with no obvious motive. Another appeared on a bulletin board near the village post office. A third, disturbingly, was affixed to the front of Mi Lupita, a local Mexican restaurant and convenience store.
The discovery of the flyers, and the inevitable horror and disgust they aroused in the community, had the effect of forcing everyone in local politics – Democrats, Republicans and independents alike – to make a lot of condemnatory noises in a couple of local papers, and to do a lot of reassuring of each other that we’re all in this together, this isn’t us, etc., etc. It’s nice to know that my wife’s political opponents all have her back on this issue, but there’s something frustratingly canned about the whole affair.
The parade of carefully modulated official outrage sparked by the posters inevitably comes across as stodgy and galumphing and out-of-touch. That’s by design, I’m sure. It’s supposed to. It feels hopeless trying to respond, like trying to swat the bright dot of a laser pointer.
“I guess white supremacy is alive and well in the Catskills,” Miguel grumbled on Facebook, when the first flyers appeared. Of course it is. It’s alive and well absolutely everywhere, if by “alive and well,” one means “flaring up with depressing regularity like a bout of herpes.”
If anything, the most surprising revelation here is that the Catskills – whose admittedly flourishing native brand of racism has always felt to me to be equal parts naiveté and a sort of knee-jerk Luddite crankiness – is home to digitally-enabled white nationalists on the bleeding edge of the post-post-ironic counter-anti-Nazi backlash.
We don’t go in for that sort of thing around here. We don’t even know what it is, really. Before the flyers cropped up, more than a few locals of my acquaintance had no idea that “You will not replace us” was a white supremacist slogan.
The only solid conclusion I can draw from any of this mishegas is that the world is speeding up. Fleischmanns feels perpetually at least ten years behind the times, and sometimes more like 50, but somehow this disgusting internet-fueled poster meme arrived here only about four months late.
I’m not frightened by it. Not in the least. I’m embarrassed. It’s tacky. It’s gross. It’s one more convenient stick for the rest of the world to beat rural upstate New York with – see, look at these racist hicks!
It burns my proverbial grits to know that the place I live in and love is crawling with even a small number of red-pill-swallowing, 4chan-lurking, 14-words-chanting incel Pepes.
If you didn’t know what any of that last sentence meant, do yourself a favor, and don’t Google it.