Hate and intolerance resolution adopted in Franklin in response to neo-Nazi threats

  • Broken Spoon on Central Street in Franklin on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. MELISSA CURRAN

Monitor staff
Published: 9/28/2022 5:28:40 PM

After a local business was the target of online neo-Nazi attacks this summer, Franklin now has an official resolution in place condemning intolerance and hate.

The resolution, which was passed at a city council meeting earlier this month, explicitly states that hate speech, especially on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and other identifiers, won’t be tolerated in the city.

“In particular the city condemns white supremacists who have attacked our citizens based on an ideology that is in opposition to our country’s and our state’s founding documents,” the resolution reads.

In July, Miriam Kovacs, owner of the Broken Spoon – a Jewish-Asian fusion takeout restaurant – noticed one-star online reviews under the name of Nazi Germany leaders, like Rudolf Hess.

The string of reviews were the result of online trolling from the neo-Nazi hate group the Nationalist Social Club, known as NSC-131. Kovacs was not the only target, with bakery owners in Portsmouth and Dover, also on the receiving end of the group’s activity.

Following the rise of white supremacist rallies – which have been prevalent across New England this summer from Kittery Training Post to Jamaica Plains – the Dover City Council officially condemned “bigotry, discrimination, oppression, racism, and xenophobia in the strongest possible terms” at their meeting in late July.

When the Monitor spoke to Kovacs in August, she wished her city would do the same. She created an “easy activism packet,” which included pre-written, stamped and addressed letters to local politicians in the area asking them to take a stand against the rise in white supremacy.

Soon, Franklin Mayor Jo Brown, who is a small business owner herself, began to receive these letters – with 30 envelopes arriving at her office.

“I’d gotten enough mail and stuff to say, ‘Okay, let’s talk about it’,” she said.

After a special city council meeting was held in August to discuss the attacks, Brown and city councilors introduced and passed the resolution at their following meeting in September.

The resolution mirrors the statement that the Dover city council issued – it directly condemns hate speech and white supremacist activity. It also recommends that a citizen’s task force be established to address the problem from the point of view of residents, business owners and city officials.

Brown deliberately read a definition of hate speech from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office before introducing the resolution to provide a clear framework for the city’s statement and clarify the difference between free speech and hate speech.

The resolution was then read and adopted with six votes and three councilors abstaining.

For Ken Ackerson, a resident of Ward 3, the resolution is a necessary statement to remind people to treat each other with kindness – which he said was a fundamental lesson he learned attending Sunday school as a child.

“We should all work together and care for each other and love one another. In recent times it is obvious that people decide that hate is the way it should go,” he said at the September city council meeting. “Anything that any government organization can do to turn this around is appreciated and necessary.”

The specific focus on white supremacy, and exclusion of other groups like Antifa, worried Laura Downing, a Ward 2 resident.

“Every time that someone gets hate speech or something happens to them are we going to come back to the council for another resolution?” she asked.

She also was concerned that the recommendation to appoint a task force would erode into a political committee.

Brown said she would be removed from the task force operations, with council members Vincent Ribas and April Bunker overseeing the group.

Brown recognized the resolution was a new step for the city. As Franklin is in the midst of a revitalization period, with new business activity stimulated by the opening of Mill City Park, she knows the population is diversifying.

Yet the small city of 8,700 residents still identifies as 97% white according to Census data.

Historically, Franklin has faced issues with poverty and drug use, with less experience dealing with racism. The median household income of $57,992, is $20,000 below the state’s median.

“People are concerned. We are. But we haven’t had the challenges that other communities have had, because of our makeup,” Brown said. “Our challenges are more focused on low income, on the demographics excluding race, on the demographics of the people here in Franklin. That is where we are focusing our attention.”

She said she knows targeted incidents though are happening across the state – over the weekend a park in Laconia was vandalized with Swastika graffiti on picnic tables.

“That’s just not happening in Franklin yet, at least as of yet,” she said.

But the resolution and task force is still a direct response to the attacks on the Broken Spoon, which is an isolated incident according to Brown’s communication with Franklin police. Residents supported the explicit statement that signals these sentiments aren’t welcome in the city.

The task force will have its first meeting Thursday night. Residents who wish to join should contact Ribas or Bunker.

The purpose of the meeting will be to set an agenda about how to address this topic going forward, said Brown.

“That’s what we’re waiting to see,” said Brown. “Where do we need to go from here? What do we need to be aware of? What do we need to make sure that our Franklin residents are aware of?”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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