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By Matt Byrne
The arrest of a Portland neo-Nazi last week on child pornography charges provided a stark reminder that white nationalist extremist groups have expanded in the United States, and New England is not immune.
But an expert on the National Socialist Club, or NSC-131, said the extremist group that recently established a presence in Maine represents a tiny offshoot in the wider world of white supremacist groups and might count only about two dozen members in New England.
“They formed in early 2020, and are a very small group of folks, kind of outcasts of groups like Patriot Front and other groups that had fallen apart,” said Carla Hill, an associate director at the Center on Extremism for the Anti-Defamation League who tracks the NSC.
Andrew Hazelton, 28, is being held in a New Hampshire jail on a federal charge of possessing child pornography. The criminal case was the result of a report by a Portland business owner who had employed Hazelton, had become increasingly alarmed by his behavior, and feared he might commit a workplace shooting. The employer called police after receiving an anonymous tip with an image that showed someone pointing a stun-gun device at another employee in their office.
Hazelton is a white supremacist and former member of NSC-131, which was formed in Massachusetts and pushes age-old racist tropes that were touted by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party. It targets Jewish people and non-white people, and seeks to create an underground resistance group.
NSC stands for Nationalist Social Club. The “131” stands for the letters ACA, for Anti-Communist Action, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups in the United States.
Hazelton had stacks of crisp, freshly printed NSC fliers in his apartment at the time he was arrested, which were shown to a reporter by Hazelton’s roommate. The propaganda calls on white men to organize and protect their families and property against perceived enemies.
NSC is largely a propaganda organization. Its tactics include racist literature campaigns and so-called “banner drops,” where a small group of followers unfurl a message from a highway overpass. They also boast online about training with firearms. Most of their posts revolve around photos of a small number of members, their faces obscured, holding flags or making hand gestures.
“Unlike some of those other groups who wrap white supremacy in more palatable political garb, NSC makes their white supremacy obvious,” Hill said.
“They’re kind of focused on a turf angle, they mark it as theirs like any street gang,” she said. “It’s a sort of crude version of white supremacy.”
Hill said the NSC members form small cliques, and that often their public actions consist of just one small group traveling to another state to make themselves appear more numerous than they truly are.
The NSC also appears to embrace a bizarre custom made popular by another far-right terror group, the Proud Boys, who insist their members refrain from masturbation. NSC-131 has posted images and messages against pornography, and in one clip posted to their Telegram channel, a pornography magazine was burned on screen.
The belief, Hill said, is that pornography and masturbation somehow undermine the virility of white men and the white race.
That may explain why the group expelled Hazelton this week by name, and said on social media that it would institute more background checks and “phone checks” in the future, an apparent reference to the fact that investigators allege they found the child pornography on Hazelton’s cell phone.
Although NSC is probably no more than two dozen members spread across the six New England States, other groups with similar ideology continue to be the top terror threat in the nation, according to an Oct. 2020 homeland threat assessment by the Department of Homeland Security. Such groups have carried out more lethal attacks on Americans since 2018 than any other ideological group, targeting people for their perceived religious, ethnic or racial affiliations.
Members of NSC also appeared to have participated in the Jan. 6 riot and sacking of the U.S. Capitol building, according to images posted in a public chat on Telegram, an encrypted messaging application that has become a safe harbor for some extremists who have been ejected from the more mainstream Twitter and Facebook.
They sometimes wave flags that appear similar to the original Maine flag that feature a prominent, centered silhouette of a pine tree and the slogan “An Appeal to Heaven,” misappropriating a quotation from 17th century philosopher John Locke that they believe empowers them to commit violence they believe is righteous.
Steve Brinn, president of the board of trustees of the Maine Jewish Museum and a board member of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, attributed the recent rise of anti-Semitic and racist incidents in part to the presidency of Donald Trump, who brought hate groups closer to the mainstream, emboldening them to action.
“I think Trump has a big responsibility in shouldering the blame for this escalation, because I think his attitude of preaching hate, a lot of people buy into that,” Brinn said. “It’s a disturbing trend, really.”
Brinn said that racist flyer campaigns are meant to test the waters and find out which communities will tolerate it, and said they can be one step along the path toward more violent action. That’s why it’s important for groups to denounce racist imagery and messages wherever they emerge, he said.
Overall, there has been a significant increase in white supremacist propaganda incidents nationally, and NSC was responsible for a small part of it. Examples include the posting of stickers and fliers that have gone up around Portland in recent months.
It’s not known how many members are in Maine, but the appearance of propaganda in Portland coincided with a March message posted by the group saying it had expanded into the state, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The group’s ideology focuses on white-grievance politics; it attempts to frame local issues through the lens of white suffering at the hands of outsiders, namely Black people and Jews, who they believe receive preferential treatment in society and have supplanted white authority.
While Portland police said they are aware of the posters, they do not necessarily constitute a crime, said Lt. Robert Martin.
“This is a fringe group, it’s not representative of the broader community,” Hill said. “What they do is free speech, for the most part, the banners, the stickers. Most of it is free speech. But it’s important for the community to tear it down, denounce it, and call it what it is, which is white supremacist propaganda.”
SOURCE: Portland Press Herald