As New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer headed out for a jog in Queens last Sunday, something out of the ordinary quickly caught his eye: an anti-immigrant poster geared toward anyone who might be sympathetic to white nationalist messaging.
The text wasn’t subtle. Addressed to “all citizens of the United States of America,” it read: “It is your civic duty to report any and all illegal aliens to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They have broken the law.” There, underneath the text, was a phone number for ICE. “Have a nice day,” the poster closed.
The posters, two of which have been discovered thus far, were a chilling sight in immigrant-heavy Sunnyside, Queens, the population of which is roughly one-third Hispanic, one-third Asian-American, and nearly one-third white. They were similar in both content and structure white nationalist posters that have appeared on several college campuses over the past year, such as those at Stanford and Rutgers.
With its simple black and white design, topped by a “NOTICE” header, the poster’s style also harked back to one of America’s darkest chapters: placards announcing Executive Order 9066, the Roosevelt administration’s post-Pearl Harbor diktat that all Japanese residents on the West Coast, as well as all Americans of Japanese ancestry, would have to spend most of the remainder of the war in internment camps, with neither recourse nor appeal.
So Van Bramer did was any good citizen would do: He tore the posters down and filmed it to send a clear message to anyone watching. “It’s ludicrous to say that it’s your civic duty to report someone you believe to be undocumented,” he told ThinkProgress. “I wanted other people to know that if they see something like this, you tear it down.”
Saw this trash on #SkillmanAvenue during my a.m. run. Tore them up. We are a #SanctuaryCity & we need to be a sanctuary neighborhood. All Immigrants are welcome here. If you see these, feel free to take them down. Be a sanctuary neighbor. #QueensValues must trump #TrumpValues! pic.twitter.com/9mtuZeW1Cn
— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) October 7, 2018
The posters — at least now four in total, both found in Queens — follow a years-long campaign from young white supremacists to trumpet their hateful views publicly and to recruit others to their cause. Thus far, the bulk of those efforts appear limited to college campuses, from Texas to Washington State.
Now, the appearance of the anti-immigrant posters in Queens indicates these messages are also bleeding into the public square. The group responsible for this poster design is a neo-Nazi organization called Vanguard America. While the group denied to the New York Daily News that it was responsible for these particular posters in Queens, the group admitted that this type of poster is used “for the general public to access.”
While Vanguard America hasn’t gained the notoriety that other white supremacist groups and factions have seen over the past year, the ripple effects of its activity have had a significant impact. Most notably, James Fields — the man responsible for driving a car into counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one and injuring dozens more — marched with Vanguard America during last year’s “Unite the Right” rally. (Vanguard America later denied that Fields was a member of the group.)
Since then, Vanguard America’s fingerprints have appeared among those collecting Nazi memorabilia, college students in Nebraska, and other white nationalists who have become some of the most openly fascist splinter groups recently formed.
There haven’t been any reports of the anti-immigrant posters appearing elsewhere in New York, and no one has taken responsibility for those Van Bramer discovered. But for the council member, these were already two too many.
“This is garbage; this is hatred,” Van Bramer said at a press conference on Tuesday. “And this has no place in the borough of Queens.” With that, he proceeded to shred another poster — this time to applause.
Líderes de la comunidad @JimmyVanBramer y organizaciones @MaketheRoadNY condenan mensajes de odio en contra de nuestra comunidad inmigrante “Inmigrantes unidos jamás serán vencidos” 5pm @Telemundo47
“IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE” – Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer pic.twitter.com/8Gq9ggXaej
— Nadia Torres (@NadiaTorresT47) October 9, 2018
“This is an act of hate,” Van Bramer told ThinkProgress. “This is about intimidating people — and it’s disgusting.”