Residents report Nazi flyers in neighborhoods

Police say violent message is scary, but legal

By: Sarah Wojcik, Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 15, 2019

 Clover Hill Park Cemetery, on 14 Mile Road, was one of the locations where racist flyers were reportedly found.

Clover Hill Park Cemetery, on 14 Mile Road, was one of the locations where racist flyers were reportedly found.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

 Flyers with violent, racist messaging have been reported in Birmingham and Royal Oak.

Flyers with violent, racist messaging have been reported in Birmingham and Royal Oak.

Photo provided by Rachel Day

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BIRMINGHAM/ROYAL OAK — A couple of weeks ago, as Sandra Thake and her husband pulled up to a stop light at Adams Road and Hazel Street, she couldn’t believe what she spotted on a utility pole outside her passenger-side window: a black and white flyer encouraging readers to join the new Nazi party.

“I can tell you when I saw it, I immediately jumped out and ripped it down,” said Thake, a Birmingham resident. “I had found one earlier when I was walking my dog with my kids. I took it down quickly and made sure they didn’t see it.”

Soon Thake learned that several of her neighbors in the Poppleton Park area had seen similar signs, all attributed to the group Atomwaffen Division, a global network of neo-Nazis that many law enforcement agencies consider to be a terrorist organization.

One flyer was found at Wimbleton and Abbey streets, another at the entrance of Manor Park, and another on the gates of Clover Hill Park Cemetery, a traditional Jewish cemetery on 14 Mile Road. One was found in Royal Oak too.

“I took the flyer I found to the police, and they had already heard about some of the other ones. They said, ‘Oh yes, we know about it. We’ll add it to the file,’” she said. “I know they’re just flyers, and flyers themselves can’t hurt anyone, so I’m not expecting a big investigation to come out of this. But I always think about how flyers like this can become the norm if we let it.”

A flyer was discovered by the superintendent of Clover Hill Park Cemetery, and Executive Director Kimberly Raznik said it was immediately reported to police.

“It was taped to the front pillar of the entrance, and he found it when he was opening the gates in the morning,” she said. “It’s just unthinkable it would happen. So much hate and ignorance out there today.”

Cmdr. Scott Grewe, of the Birmingham Police Department, confirmed reports of the flyers, the first of which was received the morning of July 4. He agreed with Thake that there’s not much police work to be done in situations like this.

“We have no idea who put these up. We did some checking around, and there were no cameras in the area, no witnesses, no one reporting anything suspicious around that time. So there’s nothing to lead us to any particular person,” Grewe said. “The city does have an ordinance that says you can’t post signs on city property, but (distributing) the signs, even if it’s definitely from a hate group, isn’t in itself a criminal act.”

Lt. Keith Spencer, of the Royal Oak Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, said the department had one report of a racist flyer found on a neighborhood telephone pole in the north end of the city, near 14 Mile Road.

“Officers went out and investigated and recovered one flyer,” Spencer said. “It was not directed at anyone in particular. It had to do with joining your local Nazis.”

That’s not to say local law enforcement washes its hands of cases like this. Grewe said the department immediately reported the incidents to the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center — a division of the Michigan State Police — and the Detroit office of the FBI.

“You never know if these groups are planning a protest or a rally in the area, or they’re planning to attend a city event, but we want to be made aware if they are so we can be prepared and have a plan,” he said. “Both (the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center and the FBI) were aware of this group. It’s on their radar, but they didn’t give me any specific information beyond that.”

Lt. Michael Shaw, of the Michigan State Police, said the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center doesn’t provide comments to the media.

Special Agent Mara Schneider, with the FBI Detroit office, said her team isn’t able to talk about the Atomwaffen Division specifically, but she indicated in an email that the reports of the flyers were right to be relayed to her office.

“The FBI’s authority to investigate domestic terrorism requires the following: the existence of a potential federal violation, the unlawful use of force or violence, and the existence of ideological motivation,” Schneider wrote. “We are aware of the incidents in Birmingham and are in regular contact with local authorities. If in the course of the local investigation information comes to light of a potential federal crime, the FBI is prepared to investigate.”

And for that, Thake is grateful. She said the “clearly violent and hateful” signage is something she and her neighbors won’t tolerate.

“If we don’t take care of these little signs of hate, it snowballs and those posters become acceptable. Then maybe it turns into hate speech in media, then hate speech in person among neighbors. I know it’s only a flyer, but I think we should nip this in the bud,” she said. “We want to show we’re taking responsibility as a community, because we don’t want this. Don’t come in our neighborhoods and spread a message of violence and hate.”

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