My Turn: Sununu must stop enabling white nationalism, anti-government extremism

For the Monitor
Published: 1/10/2021 6:20:31 AM
Modified: 1/10/2021 6:20:13 AM

It is concerning that Gov. Chris Sununu canceled his inauguration ceremony due to concerns over armed protestors. No one should be subject to armed harassment and intimidation.

As Sununu seeks ways to protect himself, now would be a good time for him to also take responsibility for the ways he has fostered the growth and danger of armed threats in our state, and to pledge to do better going forward for everyone’s sake.

First, Sununu needs to stop allowing dangerous people easy access to firearms. He vetoed bills to close background-check loopholes and strengthen public safety laws. The first law he signed as governor repealed New Hampshire’s long-standing concealed carry licensing requirement.

Some of the people protesting the governor now are the same ones who came, armed, to State House hearings to side with Sununu on these bills and make threatening overtures toward gun violence prevention advocates. Not once has Sununu condemned those actions, supported common-sense gun safety bills, or offered additional protections to gun violence survivors as they testified in the face of this intimidation.

Second, Sununu also looked the other way for months as heavily armed white supremacists stood outside of Black Lives Matter events, and armed militias agitating for a second Civil War used ReOpen rallies to recruit and organize.

As early as May, Granite State Progress held briefings warning that growing anti-government extremism and white supremacist activity was on the rise in New Hampshire. Our research uncovered disturbing memes by local militia members (domestic terrorists) that discussed making command detonators and conducting raids on public leaders; posts celebrating a 17-year-old militia member who murdered two Black Lives Matter activists and injured a third in Wisconsin; and the alarming arrest of a group of armed men outside a Black Lives Matter rally in upstate New York, which led to the discovery of assault-style AR-15 rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and “a tactical manual tying the group to the New England Minutemen militia group” – all activities from the same militia collaborating with ReOpen NH (now ReBuild) and which had its image splashed across national and local media outlets.

Yet Sununu remained silent about the armed intimidation and violent extremism taking root. Worse yet, Sununu ignored public health science and weakened New Hampshire’s response to COVID-19 on the eve of anti-government protests on at leasttwo occasions, caving into extremist demands and rewarding their actions.

Third, Sununu has played a dangerous game by using these factions to advance his own political agenda, and in the process built power for those individuals and groups.

Take the Free State Project, which seeks to move 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire to take over and dismantle state government – ironically, in part by running for state and local office. Since many FSP candidates hide their affiliation, Granite State Progress regularly researches and publicizes a list of Free State Project candidates. Our organization released one report in 2017 that found that nearly half of the Free State Project candidates identified were actively promoting secession, an idea FSP has espoused since its creation.

The report sent alarm bells through the Republican establishment, the veil used by many Free Staters to run for office. The Republican House speaker at the time, Shawn Jasper, publicly called for the GOP to “distance ourselves from the Free State Project.” But others hesitated as Free Staters have provided substantial volunteer support for Republican politicians and initiatives – including some of Chris Sununu’s own pet political projects.

No decision was made to distance. Instead, this past election cycle Sununu campaigned with Republican state Senate candidate Carla Gericke, the past president of the Free State Project and current president of the secessionist N.H. Foundation for Independence. Gericke is also pictured at ReOpen events alongside the armed militia Sununu failed to condemn.

Sununu’s history of enabling racism and extremism is lengthy. He feigns righteous indignation but has yet to call for the resignation of state Rep. James Spillane, a Deerfield Republican, who advocated for burning and looting houses displaying Black Lives Matter signs, or Rep. Dawn Johnson, a Laconia Republican, who circulated racist, anti-Semitic material from a neo-Nazi website. He supported Trump even after he called neo-Nazis “very fine people” and encouraged white supremacist Proud Boys to “stand by.” He met with a fringe right group founded by conspiracy theorists Jerry and Susan DeLemus, at a time when Jerry was (and still is) serving a federal prison sentence for his role in the 2014 armed standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada – the same anti-government extremism that continues today with the recent militia plot to kidnap the Michigan governor.

Misguided “patriots” ready to threaten or use violence to enact their version of America only grow bolder when politicians give them credibility or stoke the flames in order to boost their own political career.

The company Chris Sununu keeps and the positions he takes is dangerous for all of us. Now Sununu is finally worried about safety when his own is at risk. We can only hope it will be a wake-up call to Sununu to stop coddling white nationalism, violent rhetoric, and extremist movements.

(Zandra Rice Hawkins is the executive director of Granite State Progress, a multi-issue advocacy group that for the last decade has tracked extremist movements in New Hampshire.)


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