FORT PLAIN -- Village police have opened an investigation into fliers found in a village parking lot last week that implore people to join the Ku Klux Klan.
Interim Fort Plain Police Chief Ryan Austin said the fliers were found on cars in a lot adjacent to a village park and at a local NBT Bank branch.
The fliers incorporate heart designs and encourage people to “love your own race.” They also advocate against homosexuality and “race mixing.”
The literature claims to be the work of a group calling itself “Loyal White Knights of the KKK." The flier includes a phone number for the national KKK hotline and a website address.
A call to the hotline went unreturned Tuesday.
“The community as a whole doesn’t believe in any of their beliefs,” said Austin of the KKK. “I have not come across anybody that does believe that type of stuff in my work here.”
Austin said that, while he doesn't believe in the flier's message, it is protected speech. He said he could arrest the pamphleteer if he or she admitted placing the fliers on cars, but even that would only be a violation of vehicle and traffic law.
Austin said he believes whoever left the fliers is either operating alone or in a very small group.
“I’m speculating, but I’m not thinking it’s a large group of individuals; it may be one or two people, if that,” he said.
Austin said the investigation is to determine whether there are any KKK-related rallies or events planned in the area.
“I’m working with the New York State Police in regards to moving forward on this ... to see if there’s some type of rally that’s going to occur or something to that effect,” he said.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the organization over the past two years has seen a significant uptick in the amount of “lit drops” made by white supremacist groups, most notably two groups called the Loyal White Knights of the KKK and the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK.
Potok said last year there were 117 such “lit-drops” in 26 states, but that the center does not keep year-over-year records. He does believe, however, that such operations have increased significantly over the past two years.
“That’s substantially more than in past recent years, and it’s running at probably about the same rate this year,” he said. “I would not take that as a sign of strength or resurgence on behalf of the klan ... it’s very low-effort. Essentially, it’s one guy driving around in the dead of night; there’s no risk.
“For them, it’s a way of appearing bigger than they are. Certainly, they’re looking to recruit, but it’s more to get local news stories."
Potok said President Donald Trump has “legitimized” the way some of these groups think, and as a result, they’re claiming to have hundreds of thousands of new members.
“It’s simply hogwash; they’re not recruiting anything like thousands of members,” he said.
The center’s “Hate Map,” which identifies where in the U.S. the Law Center thinks hate groups are operating, shows limited KKK activity in upstate New York.
The Klu Klos Klan, a subsidiary of the national organization that claims to be the original name of the KKK, operates in Plattsburgh, according to the map. The map does show some KKK activity in New York and on Long Island.
According to the center, there are 892 hate groups operating in the U.S.: 44 in New York. In upstate New York, some of those groups include the Nationalist Socialist Movement, black separatists and white nationalist organizations.
Potok said the KKK reached its peak in 1925, when it had about 4 million members. By 1965, that number dwindled to 40,000, while today he estimated their ranks to be around 4,000.
Potok said that, while lit drops are understandably disturbing and frightening, “it’s important for people to realize this is probably just one individual, and it very well may be that this person isn’t a member of the Klan.”
A spokeswoman for the Law Center said it has received reports about the same flier being found in New Jersey and North Carolina.
Potok said the best thing a community can do when something like this happens is to come together -- different church groups and civic organizations -- with local officials and law enforcement to make it clear to that the community is in opposition to such ideas.
“Sometimes, towns will get together after things like this ... the idea is to bring people together in some way to essentially make the statement that this is not us; this is not what the community is about,” said Potok.
“It especially makes minorities who feel targeted by this kind of literature feel better,” he added.