Civil Rights

The Woonsocket City Council just amended a resolution against white nationalism into a mockery of itself, then passed it

“…you refer to people as people of color. And you want to denounce White Nationalism and White Supremacy,” said Woonsocket City Councilor James Cournoyer. “What about Yellow Supremacy? And Green Supremacy? And Black Supremacy and Brown Supremacy and every other Supremacy?” “…there’s no mention made in this resolution about the group called Antifa, the group that promotes violence,” said City
Photo for The Woonsocket City Council just amended a resolution against white nationalism into a mockery of itself, then passed it

Published on September 17, 2019
By Steve Ahlquist

“…you refer to people as people of color. And you want to denounce White Nationalism and White Supremacy,” said Woonsocket City Councilor James Cournoyer. “What about Yellow Supremacy? And Green Supremacy? And Black Supremacy and Brown Supremacy and every other Supremacy?”

“…there’s no mention made in this resolution about the group called Antifa, the group that promotes violence,” said City Councilor John Ward, “because all they’ve done is combat and prevent the free expression of views espoused by the so-called alt-Right…”

“I’m color blind,” said Council President Daniel Gendron. “I go through life treating everybody equal. So I sometimes have trouble understanding prejudices and people acting in prejudiced ways…”

“I feel as though, when we look at pieces of legislation like the original piece of legislation we end up having to name everyone, so we have to name Antifa, Louis Farrakhan, PLO and Hezbollah and Hamas and every group that espouses hate,” said Council Vice President Brien.

Alex Kithes

Newly elected Woonsocket City Councilmember Alex Kithes introduced his resolution denouncing White Nationalism at his first Woonsocket City Council meeting on Monday evening.

“The basic motivation is that we live in a time, right now, where these ideologies are becoming more pronounced,” said Kithes. “White nationalism and White Supremacy are the false belief in the inherent superiority of white people, based on their race. This is inconsistent with fact and I think we all recognize that.

“But this type of rhetoric has grown as we’ve seen in the instances I’ve cited in the WHEREAS section, and especially in the last couple of years. This growth of this ideology is a risk to so many people in our community, especially considering that by the latest estimates, our community is over 40 percent people of color.

“I think it’s important for our City to take a strong stance against this dangerous ideology and to formally, decisively denounce that,” concluded Kithes.

“Councilman, were you at Charlottesville?” asked City Councilor James Cournoyer.

“I was not,” replied Kithes.

“Do you know any White Nationalists?” asked Cournoyer.

“I believe I’ve encountered a few, yes,” said Kithes.

“You know any White Nationalists here in the City of Woonsocket?” asked Cournoyer.

“Yes,” said Kithes.

“You do? Could you share?” asked Cournoyer. “We’re denouncing them. Who are they?”

“We’re not denouncing people, we’re denouncing ideologies,” answered Kithes.

“So you don’t know anybody here in the City of Woonsocket,” said Cournoyer.

“I didn’t say that,” said Kithes.

“Is there anybody up here that’s a White Nationalist in your opinion?” asked Cournoyer.

“I didn’t say that,” said Kithes.

“Anybody in the City Government?” pressed Cournoyer.

“Didn’t say that,” repeated Kithes.

“So do you believe that there’s a problem of what you call white nationalism in the City of Woonsocket?” asked Cournoyer.

“There’s a very big difference between this set of people sitting up here and the entire City…” began Kithes.

“So you believe there’s a problem of white nationalism here in the City of Woonsocket,” said Cournoyer.

“Yes,” said Kithes.

“Can you be more specific?” asked Cournoyer. “Because I want to fix whatever’s wrong. I want to know exactly what you’re referring to. Because I’m not aware of it. Maybe I’m just blind or something, so…”

“Rhetoric that’s used on various forms of media, including social media, including talk radio, is used to promote this ideology, as evidenced by graffiti on bathroom stalls that is neo-Nazi in nature and white supremacist in nature,” said Kithes. “And yes, it’s not in Woonsocket but two, maybe three times there’s been large gatherings in Providence, of people around the State, who are basically aligning themselves with this ideology. Woonsocket’s not an island and this is a growing problem and just reading the news any day, especially in the last couple of years, it’s very obvious that the resurrection of what’s being called the alt-right is putting people in our community of many different, marginalized identities, at risk.

“This resolution is non binding,” continued Kithes. “It’s not an attempt to solve the problem, it’s an attempt – as you should know considering you’ve been on the City Council – resolutions of this nature are intended to make a statement as a City government, and in this case denouncing an ideology that is harmful a vast majority of people in our community. It’s harmful to everybody in our community, but, directly poses a risk to a vast majority of people in our community.”

“So, as you said, it’s non binding,” Cournoyer. “It’s of no consequence. It’s an opinion, which is fine. And the problem I have with this is it’s not legislation, it’s a resolution. But if it was legislation people would refer to it as ‘feel good’ legislation.

“You, in your second WHEREAS you say, ‘White Nationalist groups espouse an ideology of white supremacy and the alleged inferiority of people of color.’ Are there any people of color up here, on this dais?” asked Cournoyer.

“Yes,” said Kithes.

“Yes?” asked Cournoyer. “Who?”

“I’m going to say that this conversation is pretty inappropriate,” said Kithes.

“No no no no no,” said Cournoyer. “I’m trying to understand the resolution, you’re asking us to support and pass. Do we have people of color up here?”

“What you’re doing is called tokeniztion,” said Kithes.

“Answer the question,” said Cournoyer. “This is a term you used, you used it frequently, I might add. Who are the people of color you’re referring to?”

“People of color is the politically correct term for people who are not white, without referring [to them] with the negative,” said Kithes.

“Who are not white,” repeated Cournoyer. “Okay. Am I a person of color?”

“I don’t know your history,” answered Kithis.

“What am I?” asked Cournoyer. “You see, the issue I have, Councilman, is it drives me crazy, when people like yourself, put labels out there and refer to people as people of color. Again. What am I? Am I a person of color or not? You seem to be very much into this. So am I someone that’s being affected by this? Help me out.

“This whole thing, much like you guys got involved with with the radio show host here, makes it sound like we have a problem in the City of Woonsocket with White Supremacy.

“Now I’ve got a dictionary that I’ve owned for quite some time. I picked it up at the Brown Bookstore in 2001. You’re probably familiar with the Brown Bookstore. Now granted, this is a few years old, 2001. I’ve looked up white nationalism and white nationalists. It’s not in here. It’s a term that they’re – It’s not in here. Maybe in the latest version, I don’t know.

“I looked up nationalism. We had discussions about this earlier. And it says, ‘Nationalism, defined as devotion to one’s nation, patriotism,’ okay? ‘The doctrine that national interests, security, etc, are more important than international considerations,’ okay? ‘The desire for one or advocacy of national independence.

“So we talked about talk radio in here,” continued Cournoyer. “There were references, not so long ago, by you and others about someone from talk radio was saying, he defined himself as a white nationalist, because he cares about the country. That he’s a patriot, etc. And that got all twisted…”

“Point of order, Council President,” interrupted Kithes.

“Councilman Kithes,” said Woonsocket City Council President Daniel Gendron.

“The resolution before us is not specifically citing any instances of talk radio,” said Kithes. “It’s about the ideology. It’s denouncing ideology.”

“That’s fine,” said Cournoyer.

“And it’s an ideology that, if you had a dictionary that was printed after 2001, it would be in there,” continued Kithes.

“That’s fine,” said Cournoyer. “You talk about talk radio, you talk about white nationalism, you’re talking about White Nationalists, I’m telling you I don’t know any White Nationalists. Okay? I don’t know any White Supremacists here in the City I don’t know any anywhere! And you’re trying to tell me, define for me what all these people think and believe and so forth.

“And you refer to people as people of color. And you want to denounce White Nationalism and White Supremacy. What about Yellow Supremacy? And Green Supremacy? And Black Supremacy and Brown Supremacy and every other Supremacy?

“This is feel good stuff, okay? And I don’t like the idea, of what we had with the talk radio show, trying to turn it into something it wasn’t. I get it that some people are activists and they like to protest and do all that type of stuff, but where does it begin and where does it end when we start doing this? Do we come back next week, two weeks from now and denounce murder? Do we denounce rape? Do we denounce incest? Where does it begin, where does it end?

“This is of no consequence,” continued Cournoyer. “It makes people feel good that they’re saying something that frankly is a statement of the obvious. If I though for a second anybody up her, anybody in City Government was practicing, in any way, shape or form, any type of, any form of Supremacy, I’d be the first one to denounce it and take action.”

“If it’s something that we all obviously agree with, then why not pass it?” asked Kithes.

“The reason we don’t pass it, in the current form, is because you’re picking one form of Supremacy,” said Cournoyer. “So I’d like to offer the following amendment, Council President. I’d like to offer this amendment:

“Take the 19 R 102 in its current form and change the heading to “DENOUNCING AND OPPOSING ANY AND ALL FORMS OF HUMAN SUPREMACY OVER ANOTHER HUMAN.” That we then delete all of the WHEREAS’s presented by Councilman Kithes, and start anew, the following:

“WHEREAS Councilman Alexander Kithes seeks to use Woonsocket City Council Meetings as a forum to espouse and share his views and opinions regarding the views and opinions of others, as well as to engage in and facilitate virtue signaling, and,

“WHEREAS Councilman Kithes wishes to partake in what the majority o the City Council deems unfortunate, unproductive and destructive, the practice of identifying, categorizing, dividing, differentiating and referring to people by race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation , gender identity and other groupings, including the offensive use and embrace of such terms as ‘people of color,’ and,

“WHERAS Councilman Kithes has requested the City Council i.e. the City’s legislative branch of government, pass a formal resolution denouncing the ideology of ‘White Supremacy’ defined by Councilman Kithes as ideology where white people believe they are superior to ‘people of color,’ notwithstanding the fact that to the knowledge of the City Council as a whole, there have been no instances of wherein any member of the City Council or any member of City Government has espoused, embraced, or otherwise practiced, advocated or supported an ideology of White Supremacy, and not withstanding that such a resolution is a dubious consequence in so much as it does not create, repeal, or request any law or legislation or otherwise direct or instruct tangible action other than expressing what the majority of the City Council believes is a statement of the obvious in connection with the ideology of White Supremacy. And,

“WHEREAS the City Council holds, subscribes and adheres to the beliefs and truths that all, and I emphasize the word ‘all’ men and women are created equal, as is described in our country’s Declaration of Independence, and thus no man or woman is Supreme to another, regardless of how certain people may wish to create division amongst us by the use of identity labels. and…”

[Written during the time when slavery was legal and women did not have the vote, the Declaration of Independence actually says all “men” are created equal, and at the time it was written only referred to white, land-owning men. Yes, the amended resolution misquotes the Declaration of Independence.]

“WHEREAS all members of the City Council of Woonsocket take an oath to uphold the constitution of our nation and state, which recognize the rights of all our citizens, even those whose views we find offensive, abhorrent, in any way contrary to our own deeply held beliefs, to publicly assemble peaceably, and express their views without the fear of violence, and the City Council therefore takes no action to express any opinion that might serve to prohibit, limit, prevent or in any way deter through fiat, declaration, insinuation, resolution or any other form of intimidation any of the rights enshrined in our most precious First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” continued Cournoyer, “and,

“WHEREAS notwithstanding that the City Council neither embraces nor supports any form of Human Supremacy over another, the City Council nonetheless wishes to work with, be supportive and otherwise make Councilman Kithes feel good as he begins his tenure at the City Council, now,

“THEREFORE be it resolved the City Council of the City of Woonsocket, Rhode Island as follows:

“Section One is amended to read as follows:

“The City Council hereby denounces and opposes any and all acts and or forms of Human Supremacy over another. As well as it denounces and opposes the practice of identifying, dividing, differentiating, and categorizing humans by race, religion, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and other groupings and labels that facilitates divisions, and tribalism amongst us.

“I move that motion,” concluded Cournoyer.

“Motion made by Councilman Cournoyer,” said Council President Gendron, to smattering of applause. “Seconded by Councilwoman [Denise] Sierra. Comments on the amendment.”

“How can we sit here and say that all that we’ve seen here all the time, on TV, radio, news outlets about assaults, murders, graveyard desecrations in all states, including Rhode Island, we’ve had a Jewish Cemetery get desecrated, in the past. I thought the purpose [of the original resolution] was pretty simple,” said Councilman David Soucy. “We simply state here we oppose the ideologies of hate. You’ve made, it seems to me, a mockery of it right now.

“I’m beside myself,” continued Soucy. “This should be something we all agree on, and I’m glad part of [Cournoyer’s] amendment says we denounce those ideologies of hate, but what you’ve added makes a mockery of what this young gentleman [Kithes] is trying to do, very simply.

“You’re right, it is feel good stuff, and is it necessary? Probably not. But it’s been brought before us, and to handle it the way we are, right now, is, I think it’s unfair, it’s really beneath us. That’s my opinion, anyway. So I’ll oppose that amendment for sure,” concluded Soucy.

“I beg to differ,” countered Cournoyer. “If we’re going to sit here and denounce any type of behavior in this regard, we’re not going to limit it to ‘White’ Supremacy. I think we need to be clear that any form of Supremacy – I don’t see how anybody can have a problem with that or -so that’s what this does. That’s what this does. That’s what this does. It makes it clear: Any and all forms, okay? And again, we can have a difference of opinion here. I don’t subscribe to all this labeling of people as quote – I don’t know what people of color are. Again, am I a person of color? Why do we label people? They’re human beings. This gentleman said it exactly right: earlier tonight: We all bleed red and we need to stop with the labeling, stop referring to people as ‘communities of’ ‘community of that’ ‘community of this.’

“We’re all Woonsocket residents. We have to stop dividing and categorizing and chopping ourselves up into these little tribes and these little groups. Then people say, I define this group as being different, and why are you treating them differently?” said Cournoyer. “Stop with that nonsense!”

“Councilman Cournoyer, do you…” began Kithes.

“Hold on,” said Council President Gendron. “You don’t have the floor.” Then to Cournoyer, Gendron said, “Continue.”

“So again,” said Cournoyer, “I resent the fact that we’re having this discussion implying that this City Council or the City of Woonsocket has some type of a problem. Because that’s what this implies, frankly. That we have to take action because there’s something going on here in the City that has to be addressed.

“And I’ll be the first, and you’ve seen it – with certain members and prior members of the boards – I’ll be the first one to stand up and denounce bad behavior of a City official that works [for] or serves the City.

“But I don’t know any White Nationalists, I don’t know any White Supremacists, I don’t – It doesn’t register with me, okay? Because I don’t think of the world that way. I don’t think of people – dividing the world as people of color and some other [bucket?], okay? So if we’re going to denounce something, from my perspective we’re going to denounce any and all kinds of Supremacy. Not White, not Black, not Yellow, not Green, not Purple, any form. I don’t think that’s at all unreasonable. And I’m sorry if you do.

Councilor John Ward noted that the resolution “doesn’t prove anything.

“That we stand in opposition to vile racist groups that desire homogeneous society?” asked Ward rhetorically. “Well, obviously. The opposition is self-evident. And each of us, I am sure, oppose all of these vile beliefs. When does this body, or any other elected body have to make such a statement? Specifically, within the original resolution, the fourth WHEREAS, ‘The White Nationalist and neo-Nazi messages of racial, ethnic and social intolerance has led to senseless acts of violence…

“However, it seems to me that the violence associated with these groups oftentimes has been initiated by the opposition groups that show up to disrupt and violently oppose legally permitted public assemblies of people who share common beliefs, despicable as they may be,” continued Ward. “And speaking of which, there’s no mention made in this resolution about the group called Antifa, the group that promotes violence, because all they’ve done is combat and prevent the free expression of views espoused by the so-called alt-Right. Or are these good guys here? They’ve attacked speakers on college campuses, initiated assaults on legal protesters on college campuses and cities across the nation. There is no mention made of these violent thugs who hide behind masks and would deny groups their constitutional right to speech and assembly. By only denouncing those groups whose beliefs you denounce and oppose, your resolution loses value as a fair dialog…

“The next WHEREAS says “White Nationalism and neo-Nazism are continuing to grow…” I say, ‘Really?’ Um, how much have they grown? It seems to me that the more they protest the more the people learn how outrageous their views are. Anti-American groups have existed throughout our nation’s history. They’ve never been able to get a foothold on broad political power through successful election to office. As a matter of fact, since the 19th Century, when they did actually hold political power, they have continually lost political power over time, and our nation has evolved to become less and less ruled by these awful organizations that promote wrong things.

“And then the resolution points to a few incidents in Rhode Island perpetuated by what I would consider petty criminals who aren’t even brave enough to speak their disgusting views in the public square, as they have the right to do.

“To fear the growth of this movement is ludicrous. It seems there’s more danger to youthful indiscretions being promoted through modern music and video games and social media. They all represent a small minority, a sick minority with no political power and never will. This Rhode Island Senate resolution become City Council resolution is what I would call the epitome of virtue signaling. It looks as if we have some institutional obligation to take a position that would seek to deny speech and peaceable assembly rights of those we oppose. To do so would make us no better than Antifa.

“So as this was a use of language from a body, I thought I would finish this with a list of some statements made,” continued Ward. “And the reason I concern myself with free speech access is… one of the permits we approve is the use of City property. And a group, properly filling out an application and paying designated fees, no matter their point of view, political or otherwise, by complying with permitting requirements, must be allowed to use City property, on an equal footing with any other group. And that’s where my argument lies about this. As an institutional elected body, we control those permits. And for us, just because we object as a body, and we can each, individually find them abhorrent and not worthy of a minute of our time, but as a collective body that has authority over the City’s properties, to put ourselves in the position of telling groups that they’re not welcome to use a public facility, like any other person of group is, I think is not within our proper authority. So I’ll quote some people who spoke about free speech, that I think will give some color to this because I think these are fairly influential people and I think they pretty much knew what they were talking about.”

After Ward finished reading his quotes, Council President Gendron asked if any other City Councilors had anything to add. Hearing none, Gendron said, “I was quite honestly puzzled by the original resolution. There were things in here that I did not understand. I had to look up White Nationalism, because until the most recent introduction, by certain people bringing it to the airwaves, I was not aware of White Nationalism. That term was foreign to me.

“But then again,” said Gendron, “I’m color blind.

“I go through life treating everybody equal,” continued Cournoyer. “So I sometimes have trouble understanding prejudices and people acting in prejudiced ways. But, after hearing the amendment that’s being offered by Councilman Cournoyer, it does encapsulate good living in the way that we should treat everyone, and I will be supporting the amendment.”

Council President Gendron then called for a roll call vote on Cournoyer’s amendment. Only Councilors Kithes and Soucy voted against it. Council President Gendron, Council Vice President Jon Brien and City Councilors Cournoyer, Sierra and Ward voted in favor.

“I withdraw my original motion,” said Kithes.

“It’s already on the table,” said Gendron. “You can’t withdraw it. It’s had a motion and second, so it’s already being acted upon.

“So 19 R 102 is amended. On the main motion, as amended, are there any comments on 19 R 102 as amended?” asked Gendron.

“Just to kind of piggyback on what you said, I just want to say that I was raised in such a way that I say ‘Yes Sir’ and ‘Yes Ma’am’ to everyone, no matter what your station is in life because I believe that whoever you are, you deserve respect,” said Council Vice President Brien. “It doesn’t matter what position you hold.

“I live in the City of Woonsocket and I would say that we are known for one thing in this City and that’s for being an incredibly generous City that opens its heart to those who are in need. We may not be a wealthy community, but we certainly are a heartfelt community. I feel as though, when we look at pieces of legislation like the original piece of legislation we end up having to name everyone, so we have to name Antifa, Louis Farrakhan, PLO and Hezbollah and Hamas and every group that espouses hate.

“On this main motion, this is basically a piece of legislation that says kumbaya, everyone’s equal and I approve of that. I’ll just close with this. A long time Boston radio host said this, and I thought it was great. ‘When a conservative doesn’t like a radio show, he or she changes the station. When a liberal doesn’t like a radio show, he or she demands that it be taken off the air.

“Free speech isn’t only about me being able to say what I want to say, when I want to say it, as long as it’s not fighting words, but it’s also about having to hear the things that I don’t like. And I hear a lot of stuff that I don’t like every single day. And you know what? I don’t believe it, I don’t listen to it, they have a right to say it. If they want to make asses of themselves, let them. I know how I live my life. I know how I feel. And i would give anyone the shirt off my back, if they were in need, no matter what their color.

“Councilman Cournoyer’s amendment, I think, says that in a very verbose way, so I support the main legislation,” said Brien.

The City Council then passed the amended resolution, 5-2. Two people applauded.

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