Editor's note: This story was corrected at 11:40 a.m. on Feb. 12, 2018. A previous version included an incorrect spelling of Ku Klux Klan.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Alessandra Canario thought what she saw was only a parking ticket on her car on Alger Street when she woke up Sunday morning.
She was upset about the possible ticket, but when she learned what it actually was, she began to feel unsafe.
What was on Canario’s car wasn’t a parking ticket.
It was a flier inviting people to join the Loyal White Knights, an active faction of the Ku Klux Klan, which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Cemter as a hate group. It was one of three or four different fliers placed on cars parked in the north side of the city, including on Van Dam, Clinton and Alger streets, and Greenfield and Woodlawn avenues, according to Saratoga Springs Police Lt. Robert Jillson.
One of the fliers had a Valentine’s Day theme to it. It contained messages like “Love Your Own Race” and “Stop Homosexuality & Race Mixing.”
Another said that “Civil rights failed” and that black people will only “damper progress for white society” while using the N-word.
When a reporter from the Daily Gazette called the number on the flier, a voicemail message featured a male voice making disparaging comments about black people. It also promoted a documentary from 2015 that can be seen on Netflix called “KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy.”
The message ended with: “This has been a message from the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. White Power.”
The website featured on the flier led to a message from SiteBuilder.com saying “Page Not Found.”
A man holds one of the fliers left on his car. (Erica Miller)
Police were first alerted to the fliers after a Woodlawn Avenue resident reported it to them around 8 a.m., Jillson said. He added that police officers then went around and took the fliers off the cars as he said they had “evidentiary value.”
Canario, a student at Skidmore College from New Jersey who lives on Alger Street, said the messages were concerning.
Being of Mexican and Italian descent, Canario said the current political climate, and what’s been reported by the media, has given her nightmares of “a skinhead” coming and knocking on her window.
“I thought it was stupid,” Canario said. “But it’s not so stupid when they’re leaving notes on my car.”
Cory Bernthon, who lives on Waterbury Street, was angered and shocked when he heard about the fliers.
“I think it’s total bulls--- that people think that [minorities] are just inferior,” Bernthon said.
The issue is also personal for Bernthon, who is white. That is because his brother is married to a Haitian woman, and his sister’s ex-boyfriend is black.
“Thirty, 40 or 50 years ago, my sister-in-law and my brother would not have been able to have that kind of relationship,” Bernthon said. “Much less my sister and her ex-boyfriend being able to have a mixed-race daughter.”
Jillson said early Sunday afternoon that police are investigating the incident and that the fliers weren’t targeting one person. But, he said while the messages on the flier were concerning, they could fall under protected speech. He said it would be “premature” to say whether posting the fliers amounted to a crime.
“Is it concerning to someone? Absolutely,” Jillson said. “But it’s not criminal activity, not the way the laws interpret it.”
Jillson said the posting of the fliers may only be in violation of a city ordinance on handbills.
Jillson said the fact that the act was done under a cloud of anonymity is also what makes it concerning. He said he didn’t know if there was a local KKK chapter, or if the fliers were handed out by one or more people.
When the Daily Gazette left a message with the number posted on the flier, a man claiming to be Chris Barker, the imperial wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, returned the call around 8 p.m.
The man said the fliers were meant to be a recruitment tool and that the number left on it was the recruitment hot line.
The fliers aren’t meant to threaten or intimidate anyone, Barker said.
“If you don’t like [the flier], then just throw it out,” Barker said.
Barker also said he had nothing against black people.
“But I want to be separate from them,” Barker said.
Barker then had a member of a chapter in the Capital District call the Daily Gazette reporter.
This second man claimed to be Ben Christian, the exalted cyclops of the upstate New York KKK group. While the man declined to say where exactly he lived, he said he lived in upstate New York.
The second man said it was him and a few others who placed the fliers found on cars in the city on Sunday morning. He said they targeted Saratoga because it is a “liberal city” and claimed it was a “sanctuary city.”
“We’re trying to express the importance of sticking to your own race and stopping homosexuality,” Christian said.
Christian said only white people who are straight and Christian have nothing to worry about.
When asked what other people should be worried about, Christian said. “When the race war begins, that's what it’s all going to boil down to. People will have to fight for what they believe in.”
The fliers were surprising to Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly. She said the police will “get to the bottom of it” as she said it is important for residents to feel safe.
Kelly went on to condemn the messages in the flier.
“We don’t want it in our community,” Kelly said. “We want to curb it.”
Those with information are asked to contact Saratoga police at 518-584-1800.