Residents of the upstate New York city of Westmoreland found fliers for the Ku Klux Klan left at the end of their driveways Friday morning. But what caught parents’ attention wasn’t just the propaganda — it was the candy bars that came along with it.
Some residents believed the white-supremacist group was trying to recruit children.
“They come between 4 and 6 in the morning so the candy bars and packets are at the end of the driveway when kids are getting on the school bus. The community they hit was a mobile home park so there were a lot of kids in the area, and they hit on some of the side roads, too. Our feeling was that the children (were) being targeted -- at least the high school and middle school kids in that age group,” one resident and member of the local board of education Denise Szarek told CNN.
The fliers show a Klansman clad in a robe and riding a rearing horse in front of a crossed confederate and “Betsy Ross” U.S. flag. Atop the flier, it reads “Join The Klan and Save Our Land !!!” It then offers a web and physical address and encourages the recipient to contact the national office.
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“The KKK is a terrorist organization, and even dropping off these materials itself is terrifying, especially when you find something like this in your driveway in the morning,” a local teacher and historian told CNN. “It requires a response, and the only way to get through that fear is to stand up and come together. I think the worst part is that a lot of kids found it on the way to the bus in the morning.”
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office reported that the bags were found around the area of a single road and encouraged residents to contact investigators if they had noticed anything suspicious.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement condemning the fliers and directing state police to investigate, and named President Donald Trump as a factor in what he called the “hate that is spreading like a cancer across the country.”
“I have directed State Police to investigate the appalling distribution of KKK material in several counties and send a clear message that New York has zero tolerance for intolerance. Today more than ever, New York must fight against hate crimes and stand as a beacon of equality and diversity,” Cuomo said in a news release.
But the Ku Klux Klan’s use of candy in their recruiting materials is not surprising — they’ve done it many times before.
Residents in Loudoun County, Va., found fliers weighted down with candy twice already in 2018, the Washington Post reported, and residents of a town in Pennsylvania found more fliers strewn across their lawn with candy hearts in May, according to the AP.
It’s been going on for years, too. In 2014, a Volusia County, Fla., woman found a bag of candy and Klan recruitment materials on her driveway, according to WFTV. And in November of 2017, Leesburg, Va., found bags of Klan fliers, racial cartoons and candy on their doorsteps before Halloween, NBC Washington reported.
In an update after Cuomo’s declaration, the sheriff’s office said that while they abhorred the Klan’s message, it was the group’s right to distribute material.
“I would like to say that I find the KKK an organization that encourages hatred and bigotry and I don’t condone this organization or anything it stands for. I believe in unity and tolerance. The KKK is against all of those things. However with that said, I have taken an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens, which however repulsive includes the KKK,” said Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol on Facebook.
“If the actions of this group turns to soliciting people to commit violent acts, or they cross the line and break the law, the Sheriff’s Office will not hesitate to file criminal charges against them.”
The Klan received a burst of interest following the 2016 election, with more people Googling the group than ever before at the end of that year, The Washington Post reported.
Cuomo said in a release that the Hate Crimes Task Force would start a public awareness campaign to “combat hate and help New Yorkers report and fight back against hate crimes.”