‘Ignoring antisemites, Nazis and bigots doesn’t make them go away’

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Mainstrasse joined other communities in the Greater Cincinnati region in witnessing distributions of stickers and flyers displaying Nazi, racist and antisemitic literature in August and September.

“2019, a community member reached out to me with pictures of stickers that had been popping up,” said Mainstrasse resident and local activist Missy Spears. “And they were like, do you know what this means?”

According to Spears, literature distributions of this kind happen at regular intervals throughout the neighborhood. Since 2019, she’s taken it upon herself to document and broadcast the stickers when they crop up to inform the community and maybe even catch the people who are doing it.

Spears posted the most recent round of stickering on her Facebook page in August. LINK nky has chosen not to display the images, but the stickers offer a grim combination of imagery–swastikas with racist and antisemitic epithets juxtaposed with images of the Japanese cartoon character Hello Kitty.

It’s unclear from the stickers themselves if they’re from a particular group or organization, but Spears said that identifiable white supremacist groups have posted recruiting material in the past. The first such organization she noticed was Patriot Front, a group involved with the Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, which eventually led to the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer.

The distributors try to put their paraphernalia in places where they’re easily noticed.

“It would be stickers on businesses or on [street] corners,” Spears said. “They get business cards printed, and they slip them in the books [at shops]… They had little posters that they would put up on the neighborhood cork boards around town. So we started organizing in the neighborhood group, just putting up pictures of what the stuff looked like and what streets and what areas we would find it in.”

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Mainstrasse isn’t the only area in the region that’s had to deal with this. As reported by WCPO, at least five Cincinnati neighborhoods have also recently seen the distribution of hateful or antisemitic flyers and literature–downtown Cincinnati, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, Loveland and Anderson Township.

“In the simplest of terms this is a constant issue,” said Ari Jun, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Jun is a rabbi and frequently speaks with the media about antisemitic incidents in the Greater Cincinnati region. He said that the problem is, in fact, much more widespread than many people realize.

“While they may only see reporting on a flyering incident such as this like every few months,… We deal with them dramatically more often than that,” Jun said.

The Jewish Community Relations Council tracks antisemitic incidents throughout the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati region. Jun also referenced data collected by the Anti-Defamation League, which collects data on antisemitic incidents nationwide and displays it on their website.

When LINK nky spoke with Jun earlier this month, he said the council had tracked about 61 incidents of antisemitism over the past 12 months. These included literature distributions like those seen in Mainstrasse, as well as more dangerous incidents.

“That means that we’re dealing with an incident of antisemitism in the Cincinnati area about once a week,” said Jun.

One of the most notable incidents of antisemitism occurred in West Chester, Ohio, at an event put on by the West Chester Tea Party on Sept. 5. The group hosted a presentation at the St. Gertrude the Great Church from Harald Zieger, a Miami Township resident, whose talk trafficked heavily in antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. Antisemitic language also featured prominently in the group’s messaging after the event.

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“This instance of antisemitism is probably the worst thing in our region in terms of normalized, hateful, antisemitic rhetoric that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Jun said in WCPO’s coverage of the event. “This is not normal.”

Jun is knowledgeable about many of the antisemitic organizations in the country, but the stickers in Mainstrasse threw him for a loop.

“The one in Northern Kentucky, I do not recognize it,” Jun said. Moreover, unlike some of the flyers distributed in Cincinnati, no one seemed to be willing to claim the stickers.

“It’s bizarre, and I will say it’s disconcerting,” Jun said.

Sometimes, Jun said, the people passing out the flyers and stickers may not even be from the local area. They do this to avoid being recognized by people they know.

“Some of these folks don’t even live within the state, and they’ll just drive up the east coast of the U.S., leafleting as they go,” Jun said.

The Covington Police Department said in an email with LINK nky that they would “make officers aware of the issue, share the photos with them and ask them to patrol the Mainstrasse area regularly.”

They admitted, though, that their enforcement capability was constrained, given that the flyers and stickers are allowable under the First Amendment. The only legal action they could take against someone posting hateful images around town would if the people trespassed or damaged private property.

Still, Jun encouraged people to contact law enforcement if they ever felt unsafe.

He had some other advice for handling the problem long-term–education and awareness.

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“Ignoring anti-semites and Nazis and bigots doesn’t make them go away,” Jun said. “So, we do want to educate and make people aware of the problems that we’re facing.”

Back in Mainstrasse, Spears said that despite the stickers, the neighborhood has stepped up to help address the problem.

“It’s been kind of amazing to watch people be not necessarily angry but so ready to do something about it,” Spears said. “Now when we post things, people take paint scrapers on dog walks, and they stay looking out for them. As long as we post an image of what the stickers currently look like, people are pretty vigilant about it.”

Report incidents of antisemitism in Northern Kentucky and learn more about Jewish Community Relations Council campaigns against antisemitism at their website.

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