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Senate Judiciary Committee passes resolution denouncing and opposing white nationalism and neo-Nazism



An amended version of a Senate Resolution denouncing and opposing white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday evening. Introduced by Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket) by her constituent Herb Weiss, the resolution was written to satisfy the First Amendment free speech concerns expressed by the ACLU of Rhode Island when the resolution was introduced last year.

Nesselbush changed the resolution again after this reporter noted that all he references to white supremacist activity was to events outside of Rhode Island, when in fact Rhode Island has been the target of white supremacist violence. You can compare the original version of the resolution here, with the version that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee here.

The new version cites local rallies organized by hate groups from outside Rhode Island that resulted in violence on the State House lawn:

“WHEREAS, In August and October of 2018, hate groups organized by Resist Marxism attempted to hold rallies at Rhode Island’s State House in order to promote racist and white supremacy agendas that are in irreconcilable conflict with our State’s and our Nation’s foundational principles of liberty and justice for all. Counter protesters were organized by Ocean State Against Hate, a local antifascist coalition. At both events, as is often the case with these hate group’s demonstrations, the rallies turned violent and police were forced to disperse everyone;”

The resolution also notes incidents of hate crimes in the state:

“WHEREAS, In Rhode Island, in May of 2016, a Pawtucket synagogue was defaced by a swastika, in February of 2018, racist flyers were distributed in the City of Providence, and in December of 2018, racist stickers were affixed to signs in Johnston. As each of these events came to light, politicians, religious leaders, community activists and concerned residents came together to denounce the cowardice and to stand against the racism and hate;”

“It’s this part of being a senator that I love,” said Nesselbush to the committee. “When a constituent comes to you and has a very good idea and you can actually work together and work with our Senate policy staff and anyone who might have an issue with it and put forth a great resolution which simply says you know that the state that was founded by Roger Williams should have denounced any type of white supremacy or neo-Nazism and should stand for religious freedom and tolerance…”

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“We’re seeing the resurgence of antisemitism in Rhode Island and
according to the ProJo in 2017 the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League recorded 13 incidents of antisemitism in Rhode Island,” said Weiss in his testimony before the committee. “It’s a local problem.”

Weiss went on to list a series of hate crime incidents at the Jewish Community Day Center, Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown, building in Providence, the Oak Hill Rhode Island bike path and a Jewish synagogue on East Avenue in Pawtucket.

“I wonder what I would do if I was on the street in Germany in 1938 seeing all those windows broken (during Kristallnacht) or what would I do in Madison Square Garden in 1939 (where there was a violent rally of American Nazis),” said Weiss. “Would I have the courage or the gumption to go up to somebody dressed in a brown shirt with a swastika armband and stop him from hitting an elderly Jew?”

In my testimony I talked about my experiences covering white nationalist rallies and hate crimes in Rhode Island.

“As a reporter I’ve been to two white supremacist rallies here at the State House that were held on the South Lawn of the State House) in April and June of last year. At both rallies violence broke out. These were groups that were brought in from Boston by a group called Resist Marxism. The second time they flew people in from Portland, Oregon who were here just to commit violent acts here in Rhode Island against anti fascist, anti-white supremacist protesters – mostly young teenagers and young 20 year olds from a variety of different faiths, Jewish, Christian and non-believers, black, white, Latino, Cambodian, trans, and gay people: People who have a lot to lose in this society when people like that assert power.”


“The Huffington Post ran a piece revealing a series of online conversations by white supremacist groups where they were actively planning violence in Rhode Island for a rally they were going to hold here last April. That rally never happened. It never materialized, but after canceling that rally they planned a similar rally for the day after tomorrow, June 1, which also looks like it may not happen.

“But it’s because of the people who go out and counter protest that these things don’t happen, that we do not have rallies like this on a monthly basis, that groups like the Proud Boys and other white supremacist organizations haven’t really taken root here.

“We always ask ourselves what we would have done if we lived in pre-Nazi Germany and I think we all now know what we would have done, because we’re doing it now. Whatever we’re doing now is exactly what we’d have done previous to the Nazi takeover.”

“Although I don’t necessarily agree with Steve Ahlquist on a lot of things I do agree that I think it’s falling from Washington,” said Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston). “There’s a lot of rhetoric coming down from Washington so I support this wholeheartedly.”

The resolution passed unanimously. In addition to Lombardi those members of the Senate Judiciary Committee present were Chair Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston) and Senators Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence), Cynthia Armour Coyne (Democrat, District 32, Barrington) and Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown).

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.