Earlier this week, Bluestem published Brian Hokanson's commentary about a confrontation in Austin, Minnesota, that pitted members of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Movement (NSM) with local and Twin Cities anti-racist activists.
The latest episode in a series that began last spring, the incident illustrates the Anti-Defamation League's discussion of the group's tactics:
Over the years, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) has displayed a growing ability to attract media coverage of the organization's activities. One element which draws media attention is the group's penchant for wearing swastika-adorned Third Reich-themed uniforms and carrying banners reminiscent of Nazi rallies. The group targets rallies to specific issues and against specific groups which are in the news. In this way, the media comes out to cover a story related to a current hot topic and the frequent counter-protests are very emotionally charged.
While group's local leader, Sam Johnson, claims that illegal immigration is his only concern in organizing the rallies, it's clear from looking at the NSM's web site that the group's objects not so much to immigration status, as it does to the presence of people of color in the United States. Consider item #7 on its 25 points of American National Socialism:
All non-White immigration must be prevented. We demand that all non-Whites currently residing in America be required to leave the nation forthwith and return to their land of origin: peacefully or by force.
An in-depth search of various databases and discussions with local law enforcement revealed that the NSM is something new in Austin and nearby towns in Southern Minnesota.
A review of coverage in local legacy media suggests that the local press has done little to educate readers about the nature of the National Socialist Movement and the beliefs it holds, nor how its precepts might differ from other groups advocating limiting immigration (Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction) or those who insist on enforcing current laws.
On the other hand, those groups and individuals haven't made the call about the NSM, describing it as "an independent group" or encouraging the notion that the local Leader, Samuel Johnson, is one lone and courageous individual finally standing up after getting fed up.
A chronological digest of coverage
Samuel Johnson's organizing efforts first hit the Austin Herald in May with the publication of Austin man plans protest on illegal immigration, a short article:
Samuel Johnson has announced he plans a public protest in Austin Wednesday, June 3, concerning illegal immigration.
According to Johnson, “The protest is open to the public and there will be guest speakers who will register their opinions.”
Johnson said the protest will be held at the Mower County Veterans Memorial near the intersection of North Main Street and Second Avenue Northeast.
“I’ve never done something like this before,” Johnson said.
The protest, he emphasized, is “my own. I’m not affiliated with any other immigration reform organizations.”
Johnson said he is a member of the National Socialists Movement, but that the NSM is not a sponsor of the June 3 event.
Johnson has registered his plans for the June 3 protest with the Austin Police Department.
He said as many speakers as possible will be allowed to present their opinions at the event. . . .
While Johnson told the paper that the NSM was "not a sponsor of the June 3 event," visitors the NSM's web site might have come away with a different impression when they read Rally against illegal immigration in Austin, MN. June 3rd. Fellow NSM and organizer Robert Hester posted notice of the event in protest in austin mn AMERICA FOR AMERICANS at Stormfront, a white supremacy bulletin board.
On June 3, the Herald reported on the rally in Immigration protest brings out two sides. Coverage of Johnson:
A back-and-forth protest in front of the government center Wednesday afternoon had two sides of the immigration debate in a verbal sparring match.
Starting at 2 p.m. and ending around 4, the protest pitted people who want to crack down on illegal immigration against people who disagree with their message. In all, those organized filled most of the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue Northeast.
The protest was originally scheduled by Samuel Johnson, Austin resident and member of the National Socialist Movement, to rally against illegal immigration. To counter Johnson, a number of people came out with signs supporting human rights and decrying Nazism.
Johnson, along with friend and fellow NSM member Robert Hester, took turns talking into a microphone in front of the granite memorial on the center’s lawn. That prompted the opposing crowd, gathered near Main Street, to respond with a variety of chants, including a Barack Obama-inspired, “Yes we can.”
Johnson said before the rally that illegal immigration is a problem in Austin, and elsewhere, because of U.S. citizens losing jobs.
Coverage by a local television station, KAAL-TV, failed to note the NSM connection entirely in it's report, only that counter-protesters deemed the rally a cover for racist activism, but provided no explanation of why they might think so. Instead, the coverage framed the incident as a pro-illegal immigation v. anti-illegal immigration confrontation.
NSM local group Leader Sam Johnson reports that approximately 30 local people rallied against the illegals, vs. approximately 40 illegal aliens, along with a few of their left wing Marxist supporters that came from Minneapolis to rally against the NSM.
It should also be noted that the newly organized SE Minnesota unit mobilized this particular protest with only local citizens, and no outside NSM support coming in from out of town. Unlike the Marxists from the Socialist Workers Party who came all the way to South MN. from the City. NSM SE Minnesota will continue their grassroots effort to mobilize local citizens against the immigrant plague, which has stricken the Region and robbed many citizens of employment.
If enough people stand up like these men and women are doing in their communities, the Government will have to listen. Our actions are not about hate or racism (as our Marxist adversaries claim), its about America, American jobs, and bringing our Nation back from its current Recession. The illegals have dragged down and ruined our economy with the blessing of many, many crooked Politicians. It is time for the people to rise up, and demand the changes needed to restore America to its former Glory.
Today the voice of the people belongs to the National Socialist Movement! Slowly but surely, our progress in the streets is paying off. From mobilizing local towns people in Minnesota, to cleaning up roads in Missouri, combined with our National efforts in nearly every State, the grassroots mobilization is building us the Political army we need to bring about real change for the better. (emphasis in original text)
Johnson tells the local reporters that he organized the event as an individual, yet reports to New Pagan that the event was a success. The post notes that ". . .the newly organized SE Minnesota unit mobilized this particular protest. . ."
The Herald was not the only venue to get snookered by Johnson's claim that he acted as a lone citizen, nor KAAL-TV alone in failing to note Johnson's local leadership position within the NSM. On July 1, True North contributor Kevin Ecker posted Rally Against Illegal Immigration Coming Up:
Political activism at it's best is honest grassroots efforts by people finally fed up with lying politicians who decide to do something about an issue rather than just complain. We have a great example of that coming up here in Minnesota on the immigration issue.
On Saturday, July 11th at 2 PM, there will be a rally held at the Mower County Courthouse. It's located at 201 First Street NE, Austin, MN. This will be the second rally in a month at that location.
Basically Austin is a town that the residents feel has been devastated by illegal immigration, and a lone resident, Sam Johnson, finally got fed up [emphasis added]. He organized the first rally despite being up against professionally organized counter protests by the likes of La Raza, Centro Campesino and various Marxist organizations bussed in from the cities.
So Sam Johnson and his supporters need your help to rally the people necessary to stand against illegal immigration. South Eastern Minnesota has become a battleground on this issue and the public needs to know that they don't have to just stand by and let their towns be overrun as a result of apathy from both Washington DC and St. Paul.
You can contact Sam Johnson by email : nsmsoutheastmn -at- gmail -dot- com
[Crossposted at EckerNet.Com, comments welcome]
Apparently Ecker, who writes extensively about immigration, had no curiosity about Mr. Johnson's email address. Equally incurious readers can be forgiven for not catching the NSM connection. True North is a conservative, multi-contributor site which
seeks to focus, not on political parties or candidates or even issues, but rather first principles. These are the principles by which we as people set the standards that we, in our ideals, use to guide ourselves, and hope to guide our state and nation. They are the standards by which people of principle respond to issues. They are the standards by which we want candidates and parties to act.
I don't recall anyone on the site knowingly promoting the NSM or other neo-Nazi led events. Indeed, of late several contributors have cheered the candidacy of Eva Ng, a new American of Chinese descent, for mayor of St. Paul, so it's highly unlikely that the writers there would ask "all non-white immigrants" to leave the country, as the NSM has done in its 25-point manifesto.
The Austin Daily Herald covered the rally in Rally heats up, no arrests. While the reporter did not identify the National Socialist Movement as a neo-Nazi group, remarks by one of Johnson's fellow NSM members from the metro area to journalist probably left little doubt in readers minds about the man's sympathies:
Erik Flann, of Lino Lakes, a Johnson supporter who brought a large American flag to the rally, expressed his views as the protesters passed by.
“Hitler is not dead; he’s alive in our hearts,” he said.
Shortly after, he expanded on his comments.
“We’re trying to stop illegal immigration in this town,” Flann said. “...You can’t kill the spirit of National Socialism.”
The NSM duly reported on the action in Southeast MN Protest.
Just before the rally, Johnson spoke at an Austin City Council meeting, according to Johnson speaks out to council on immigration.
An Austin man who organized an immigration protest last month petitioned the City Council Monday to do more on the issue.
Samuel Johnson, a member of the National Socialist Movement, told the council during an open comment session that something “needs to be done real soon” with illegal immigration, claiming it has been taking jobs from Austin residents and leading to gang violence.
The reporter did not further identify the National Socialist Movement.
On July 25, the Herald noted that in nearby Albert Lea, a Immigration debate heats up at vigil:
Sam Johnson, southeast Minnesota unit leader of the National Socialist Movement, who is from Austin, said he thinks the illegal immigration issue needs to be taken care of.
Johnson, whose two sons carried signs of protest as well, said there’s no middle ground when it comes to immigration.
A local immigration reduction group, the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction (it seeks to reduce all immigration by 70 percent) posted video of the event on its YouTube channel, describing the clip:
Centro Campensino is a group that supports illegal aliens. The group is funded by the state of Minnesota and through private donations. The group is racist. Please see our other video. Two independent groups showed up to protest Centro Campensino including the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction.
Perhaps the MCFIR is as unaware of Johnson's leadership in the NSM as the True North contributor was. Or do we see a pattern here: a willingness to tolerate neo-Nazis by Minnesotans who are concerned with illegal immigration and do not support reforming immigration laws? I have not found evidence disavowing the NSM's activities. Perhaps that will be forthcoming.
In the video, Johnson is the stocky, shaven-head man doing most of the shouting:
The channel appears to be maintained by birther and Tea Party activist Nathan Smit (see end of post).
At the beginning of August, Johnson appears in the Rochester Post Bulletin story (now removed from public archives) Austin mayor rebuffs man's petition regarding illegal immigration:
An Austin man's request that city council members sign a petition demanding the sheriff enter into an agreement with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws was rebuffed Monday.
Instead, the request by Samuel Johnson, an Austin man who's organized anti-immigration rallies and says he's a member of the National Socialist Movement, created a few heated moments at the meeting.
Johnson was there to announce a petition that he had created addressed to Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi concerning illegal immigration.
"We demand that the Mower County Sheriff's Department enter into a memorandum agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce immigration laws," Johnson said, reading from the petition.
Previously, the sheriff has said this is a federal issue, but there is a program that trains local officers to enforce immigration law, Johnson said.
"I was just wondering if anyone here would like to be the first to (sign the petition)," Johnson asked the council.
Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm was the first to break the silence saying: "If anyone wants to sign it, speak up. I certainly don't want to sign it."
When Johnson asked why he wasn't going to sign the petition about "illegal aliens," Stiehm interrupted.
"This isn't a forum for that," Stiehm said. "If you want to say something, make your statement and then sit down, but we aren't having a forum."
"This isn't a forum," Johnson replied. "This is a petition for the city of Austin and the gang problem that is increasingly going on, and you can't deny that anymore. I think this is a clear issue here in the city and it needs to be taken care of now instead of hiding behind the city council and other local agencies."
Johnson left the meeting immediately after his statement.
After the meeting, Stiehm explained the comments he'd made to Johnson.
"The reason I don't support him is because that guy is a Nazi," Stiehm said. "We fought a war against the Nazis, and I am sure as heck not going to support anything they do."
In response to the petition, Amazi said: "They can demand anything they want."
Amazi said the sheriff's department has neither the manpower nor the budget to send deputies to the two-month, out-of-state training session, which is needed in order to work with ICE officials."I have looked into this issue," she said. "What the program does is it gives our deputies the ability to work with ICE officials, it doesn't give them independent status. If they want to give me the funding, then sure. But even with that said, they still have to work with ICE officials. We cannot enforce federal laws."
On September 14, the Austin Herald reported on the presence of NSM participation in a diversity program in Immigration workshops bring out both sides:
“I think our community makes them feel too welcome,” said Sam Johnson, member of the National Socialist Movement, a white-supremacist party open to non-Semitic heterosexuals of European descent. He and two other members were present for two of the workshops.
“I think there’s comments you have made that have made them feel not welcome,” said Eva Benavidez of the Resource Center of the Americas, referring to immigrants in the audience.
“There’s three Nazis here, and the rest of you are liberal communists,” Johnson replied.
Last week's episode was covered by local television stations, the Austin Herald and sister paper the Albert Lea Tribune, the Rochester Bulletin and Twin Cities Indymedia. The accounts of what triggered the police's actions vary according to the source.
In Three arrested during protest of neo-Nazi rally in Austin, the Post Bulletin reports that aggression on the part of anti-racist protesters provoked the police to act. This mirrors the account in the Austin Herald's article, Mace used at illegal immigration rally; three arrests made.
A differing account was reported by KTTC in Protesters released, face charges, in which one the NAM members provoked the attack by taking one of the anti-racist protesters' cellphones.
Early this week, the Austin paper reported that Chief stands by department's actions.
There has been some followup to this, but the press seems largely incurious about the NSM and opts for a frame which presents Sam Johnson as an oppressed victim. For example, the Rochester Post Bulletin's reportage goes no further in its investigations than Johnson's own statements about his belief and the nature of the NSM. No outside sources or research about the group is considered by the reporter, only Johnson's own representations of the NSM as a Hitler fanboy club and political party.
While the title of the article, Vets angry with neo-Nazi group's use of war memorial might suggest that the piece would be mostly about the vets' anger, Tim Ruzek's article buries the vets' concerns in the middle, framed by Johnson's explanation of his group.
Nor does Ruzek contact expert on neo-Nazi groups or outside sources online in today's article Austin man keeps pushing white agenda. Rather, the reporter simply acts as Johnson's stenographer, dutifully noting Johnson's talking point that he's not a neo-Nazi (because he says so, I guess) and that he's only opposed to illegal immigration--without noting that this is not the postion of the NSM.
Ruzek does note Johnson's multiple felony convictions and jail time, and relates that Johnson found Hitler while locked up. Another prisoner introduced Johnson to the movement:
While in jail, Johnson said, a man who befriended him told him about National Socialism. Out of jail, Johnson studied Germany in the 1920s and '30s, finding a lot of information not put out by the U.S. media on Hitler and his movement, he said.
He also realized his gang friends were using him and had tried to hook up with his girlfriend while he was in jail, Johnson said. He realized that what he had been doing was wrong.
"That's what turned me around and made me realize I need to stick with my own," he said, noting he's still on probation and has been off drugs for two years.
Clearly, Ruzek doesn't dig further into what sounds like a classic case of neo-Nazi recruitment among the incarcerated. Instead, Post Bulletin readers of both articles are left with a portrait of smiley-face Hitler worship and Johnson's vision of the NSM as a "political thing" no different than the local Republicans and DFLers.
KAAL-TV looks into the Controversy Over Rally Location, but not Johnson's radical agenda nor the group in which he has a leadership position. I agree with the ACLU on Mr. Johnson' right to speak and assemble (since he's on probation for felonies that include gun offenses, I assume the only rights that status restricts are the right to vote and the right to bear arms). However, the local press seems to take Mr. Johnson's rights as an excuse to refrain from investigation into the NSM and its agenda.
To investigate and analyze those beliefs is not to censor, nor is the act of organizing counter-protests. Rather, the former activity is seen by many as the responsibility of the free press. Criticism is not censorship. As for counter-protest, it is in itself an expression of the same rights Mr. Johnson enjoys. However, that right does not, in my eyes, include throwing food or destroying property, just as NSM members shouldn't grab their opponents' phones.
I sympathize with Mayor Stiehm's recent plea in his LTE, Facing the challenge head on:
I have received many calls about the recent demonstrations at the Veterans Memorial.
I am disgusted by the idea of the National Socialists using a monument to our local heroes as a place to attempt to advance their cause. They pick on issues like immigration, which is obviously a hot topic and of concern to most people in Austin. People may sympathize with their view on immigration, but google their Web site to see their entire platform. Most people will be appalled.
Many of the names on our Veterans Memorial are of our citizens who were killed by Nazis in WWII.
I believe the City Council will be looking into an ordinance on public demonstration. We will not be able to ban them, but hopefully we will be able to regulate them so that our law enforcement agency will be prepared.
I would like to ask people of Austin to please stay away from any such future demonstrations. If you are coming from outside Austin to visit our city or the Spam Museum – fine. If you want to put on a bandana and throw fruit or vegetables at people, find a cause in your own community to protest. That is where you pay taxes so if you cause damage or cause your community to spend money on police services, it will come out of your own pockets. We will not tolerate this behavior in our community or the disrespect that was shown our law enforcement officers.
I hope that the local press takes his advice and digs a bit deeper into the belief system espoused by the NSM. However, given the willingness of the press to take Johnson's statements at face value--despite widespread evidence to the contrary and easy access to experts on hate groups such as the NSM-- I'm not convinced that some well-thought-out protests are a bad idea.
More to come on this topic.