This is the seventh (7/50) installment in a new series of articles: "The Fifty Nifty United States." The series focuses on recent acts of racism in schooling, housing, and public life across the United States.
For some Americans, Connecticut represents the quintessential quaintness of liberal New England. Even its nickname - "The Nutmeg State" - evokes a homespun familiarity. Like much of New England, however, Connecticut is far from the progressive utopia of its projected self-image. While southern states practiced de jure segregation throughout most of the twentieth century, Connecticut used extra-legal means of enforcing racial separation. As James Loewen catalogued in Sundown Towns, communities in the North, like Darien, Connecticut, used intimidation, paramilitary enforcement, and signage to exclude non-White people from civic life. The title of Loewen's book comes from one particular sort of sign that appeared in northern towns, which urged non-White individuals to abscond themselves before dark; with non-compliance came an implied threat of violence. The only existing physical example of a sundown sign sits at the Tubman African American History Museum in Georgia. It was found in Connecticut.
While the sign is an historical artifact, White supremacy lives on in The Nutmeg State. The state's most famous cultural institution, Yale University, recently refused to rename John C. Calhoun "Residential College," which carries the handle of one of American history's most notorious White supremacists. There are campaigns to remove Confederate iconography throughout the South, but the North has racist roots as well.
While contemporary racism sometimes comes to the surface in Connecticut, like when an all-White audience in Hartford threw racist taunts at Dave Chapelle, menace brews below the radar. The Anti-Defamation League maintains a running list of practicing local White supremacist groups, which includes the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens. The New Haven Register covered some of the subtler tactics of those terrorist organizations, which include leaflet advertising and the forming of "neighborhood watch" groups.
Sometimes terrorists dispense with subtlety altogether. That's what happened in 2010 when the leaders of a violent White supremacist group called the "White Wolves" were indicted for trying to sell weapons to an out-of-state terror organization. The Connecticut Post reported:
According to the indictment, a cooperating witness claiming to be a member of an out-of-state white supremist [sic] group, met with [Kenneth] Zrallack on numerous occasions between November 2009 and the end of January 2010 to discuss purchasing bulletproof vests, firearms and grenades. And in fact, the indictment states, the witness did end up purchasing a .22-caliber rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun from [Alexander] DeFelice and [Edwin] Westmoreland ... On Jan. 23, the indictment states that DeFelice and Westmoreland worked at DeFelice's Milford home emptying the gun powder out of shotgun shells for use in making grenades. The cooperating witness later paid them for three nearly completed grenades and DeFelice called Zrallack and told him he was going to deliver money to him from the transaction. DeFelice ended the call to Zrallack with the words "eighty eight," which is code for Heil Hitler, the indictment states. After completing the grenades DeFelice packed them into a box marked with a Swastika and gave it to the witness.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking the White Wolves since the early 2000s, and since the trial the group goes by a new handle, "Battalion 14." The court acquitted two of the defendants, while a third was sentenced to ten years in prison. The proliferation of White supremacist terror organizations throughout the country is a dangerous trend, made all the more threatening by the president-elect's explicit embrace of their rhetoric and tactics. The violent presence of this kind of organization is a reminder that even the bluest states contain a deep streak of racist hate. Wherever you live, it is important to familiarize yourself with the groups that masquerade as guarantors of safety, but whose real motives are terrorism and upholding White supremacy.
"The Fifty Nifty United States" is a fifty part series, named for a children's song that lists all of the states in alphabetical order:
From the inaugural entry:
For each of the next fifty weeks, I will focus on a different American state, in alphabetical order. For every state, I will highlight an act of racism that occurred in the last decade. While I believe that prejudice in all forms is harmful, I will avoid sharing examples of prejudice that do not involve unequal power relationships, as racism emerges from a confluence of both prejudice and power ... Given the current political milieu, there is a tendency to ascribe racist tendencies to under-educated, less wealthy White people. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that the most pernicious acts of institutional racism happen when wealthier White people use their resources and political power to enforce segregation. The purpose of this series is to shed light on the pervasive nature of systemic racism in America, not to shame the individuals and institutions discussed.