SHARON SPRINGS — Signs declaring “White Power” and expressing anger toward minority groups have led to complaints to law enforcement near the village of Sharon Springs.
The signs were placed on the front lawn of 127 Church St. in the hamlet of Argusville, located within the town of Carlisle.
One sign said “White Power” over what appears to be a triangle with two dashes inside of it and an “SS” symbol. The SS were a military force in Nazi Germany responsible for organizing the extermination of Jews and others under the regime of Adolf Hitler during World War II. Another sign listed profane terms for African Americans, gay people and Jewish people, with Nazi swastikas and SS symbols flanking the word used for each group, all of which was written over the phrase “[Expletive] you.” The Daily Gazette is not publishing images of the signs because of their offensive nature.
The pictures of the property and the signs were posted to a Facebook page titled “Sharon Springs Today,” which prompted 306 comments and 791 shares.
Schoharie County Undersheriff Duane Tillapuagh said the signs belong to Joe Hanley, the resident of 127 Church St. He said the signs are protected speech under the First Amendment.
“This guy is exercising his freedom of speech, and, you know, if our office could literally do anything about it we would,” Tillapuagh said. “We think it’s disgusting … and apparently that’s his mentality about how things should be in this day and age, and we wholeheartedly disagree.”
Tillapuagh said there was also an “SS” symbol painted on a nearby Argusville Road bridge, which resulted in a criminal mischief investigation, but no charges have been filed. He said the graffiti has been painted over by the Schoharie County Department of Public Works.
Tillapuagh said some nearby residents called the Sheriff’s Department and “took to social media” with their complaints about Hanley. Tillapaugh Monday said the signs appear to have been destroyed.
“Our deputy was up near there today and said his signs were in a pile near his yard,” Tillapuagh said.
Hanley and “Felicia Nicole,” his apparent girlfriend, contacted through social media, acknowledged being responsible for the signs. They would not return a request for a phone interview.
Hanley’s Facebook profile features a picture of a man in Ku Klux Klan robes and hat, with the phrase “[Expletive] Black Lives Matter.” The background photo for the Joe Hanley Facebook page is a digitally altered photo falsely depicting President Donald Trump with his arms around what appear to be Ku Klux Klan members.
The Facebook pages for Hanley and “Felicia Nicole” sent message statements depicting different motivations for the signs.
“Long story short the signs were meant for my African American friend who was on his way here. I was outside cutting plywood and had what I guess was a dumb idea to paint my cut off piece of wood,” reads the statement from Hanley’s page. “Oops my bad. [Expletive] is blown out of proportion. Signs are down. I expressed no violence towards anybody but in return the violence aimed towards me is completely out of control.”
Hanley stated he, his fiancee and his fiancee’s 12-year-old daughter have all received threats since the signs were put up at his property.
“Those people need to practice what they preach. Thank you,” reads his statement.
The Facebook page for “Felicia Nicole” stated the signs represent her beliefs.
The message from the “Felicia Nicole” page also stated there were never any threats of any kind to anyone from the signs.
Neither page provided any evidence to corroborate the claims that the two individuals had been threatened.
The New York State Police on Monday confirmed that troopers are investigating the incident. State police also said a trooper went to 127 Church St. and discussed the issue with the occupant of the house there, who then put up another sign after the trooper left.
Doug Plummer, the mayor of the village of Sharon Springs, said, “I’m a mayor of a village that has over 100 years of Jewish history. The reason the village still exists is because of its Jewish population and Holocaust survivors who were paid by the West German government to come to Sharon Springs after World War II,” he said. “The signage is offensive on so many levels, because of our Jewish heritage, Sharon Springs has a very large LGBTQ community, and my best friend and manager of my hotel is African American, so this just hits on so many levels.”
Plummer said unless the signs incite someone to violence he believes they are likely protected under the First Amendment. He said he flies the Gay Pride flag at his hotel, “The American,” for Gay Pride Month.
“I’m sure that offends some people in this community, but it is my right to fly it and express my opinion, but it is distressing that somebody in my community harbors this much hatred, because nobody should have to live like that,” Plummer said.
Correction 5:24 p.m. 6/9: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed the photo. The photo was taken by Cre Nexis.