Public calls on Rifle to address racial issues following discovery of white nationalist stickers
Stickers promoting a white nationalist hate group recently discovered by a local mother and her son during a stroll in downtown Rifle have prompted calls for reform.
Rifle City Council on April 7 was asked by a number of residents and members of Colorado Trust, a statewide philanthropic foundation that promotes equity, to meet with community stakeholders to address what they consider to be growing racial issues within the city.
“I was grateful to (Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein) for quickly addressing the issue by removing the vandalism and committing to careful vigilance in order to make sure subsequent instances are identified and removed,” Rifle resident and Colorado Mountain College assistant dean of instruction Marjorie Lear said during public comment. “But, honestly, I’ve had a stomach ache since that day, as I reflect on the fact that someone felt free to spread hate and racism within our community so openly.”
The stickers represent the messages of Patriot Front, a white supremacist, neo-fascist, American nationalist outfit. The alt-right subsection was known to hand out fliers at Donald Trump rallies. They were also involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
Klein, who on March 25 joined members of the city parks and recreation department to remove the stickers from things like a stop sign and a newspaper rack, said the best enforcement in relation to these cases includes citing an “unlawful posting” ticket. The citation is a misdemeanor under city code.
The charge is also the equivalent of a regular vandalism offense.
“Even though it is a hate group — or whether it’s something else — it’s still the same charge,” Klein said. “Now, if that was directed at a specific person or a specific business that was targeted, then that could be considered a hate crime.”
Klein speculates that the culprit likely committed the offenses at night. He also said people should contact the police department if they see this sort of activity unfolding.
Klein said, however, that bringing to light these hate groups could be used as a public platform in a negative way.
“It is my opinion that you don’t bring attention to the particular groups that do these things,” he said. “That’s what their objective is, is to garner our attention, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s kind of advertising for them.”
Klein later told the Citizen Telegram on Tuesday that no suspects have been identified at this time.
“It is in my opinion, I don’t believe that the group’s philosophy is in no way indicative of the beliefs of the citizens of the city of Rifle,” he said.
But on April 7, Rifle Library Brett Lear told Rifle City Council that he does believe the vandalism incident is “more than just a sticker issue.”
“I participated in the Black Lives Matter march last summer, and I was really saddened as a resident to see white nationalists with loaded semi-automatic weapons and flak jackets walking behind children and harassing them as youth very peacefully marched down the road,” he said. “People with motorcycles revving their engines in the ears of children.”
In June 2020, BLM protesters showed up in Rifle to bring awareness to the importance of “Juneteenth,” which was the liberation of slaves in the U.S. more than 155 years ago. During the protest, counter-protest groups such Black and Blue, as well as other conservative groups, revved the engines of their motorcycles to drown out the BLM protesters.
Klein would later tell the Citizen Telegram that the department doesn’t usually enforce noise violations.
Rifle public information officer Kathy Pototsky, who’s helped promote local inclusivity through programs such as the city’s Humanity Restoration Crew, encouraged the community during the April 7 meeting to reach out to her in regards to racial issues.
“One of our big, big goals with the city is inclusivity and we are constantly striving to come up with ways to connect the community, to make us more friendly, to make us more welcoming,” she said.
Lear would later agree, saying the city has an issue in Rifle that they need to address.
“Because by normalizing some of this behavior, it certainly isn’t making Rifle a destination of choice to live,” he said. “I certainly don’t feel as safe here as I did when I first moved here.”
Jess Hedden, a regional representative for Colorado Trust who works in downtown Rifle, echoed Lear’s sentiment in regards to racial issues and the recent vandalism downtown.
“I was definitely concerned,” she said. “And, well, we don’t know the source of the stickers, (but) it’s clear that whoever decided to post them felt comfortable enough to that, they could do so without retribution.”
The city said they intend to meet in the future with community stakeholders regarding the issue. However, it would be done in a non-public-forum setting in an effort to attract more community opinion without fear of retaliation
“I want to try and identify individuals and remove it immediately,” Council Member Brian Condie said of racially charged incidents. “So, please, let us know when you see it.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or email@example.com
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.