Anti-fascist activists call for Indiana farmers’ market to remove white-supremacist vendors

First posted December 24, 2019 2:00pm EST
Last updated May 29, 2020 2:24pm EDT

All Associated Themes:

  • Hate Speech
  • Identity
  • Legal Action
  • Professional Consequences
  • Protest Politics
  • Social Media

External References

In a June 4, 2019, letter to the Bloomington Farmers’ Market Advisory Board, a local activist and graduate student decried the presence of a participating farm allegedly run by white supremacists. The letter threatened legal action against the farmers’ market or any establishment that continued to support the vendor, but the advisory board refused, on First Amendment grounds, to punish the accused farm owners.

Key Players

Abby Ang is a resident of Bloomington, a city in the south-central region of the state that is home to Indiana University (IU). She is a doctoral candidate at IU, a community organizer, and a frequent customer at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market. 

Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey own Schooner Creek Farm (SCF), a vendor at the farmers’ market. The farm, established in 2011, is based out of nearby Brown County, Indiana. 

Identity Evropa is labeled as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which says its members consider themselves “identitarians” purportedly interested in preserving Western culture and  “raising white racial consciousness, building community based on shared racial identity and intellectualizing white supremacist ideology.”

Further Details

Ang first learned of Schooner Creek Farm from a friend on Facebook, according to the Indiana Daily Student, IU’s student-run newspaper. At the time, she was working at informational tables at the farmers’ market for two separate organizations. Ang shared a Facebook post about Schooner Creek on May 31, 2019, that garnered considerable attention from local residents. 

In her June 4 letter to the advisory board, Ang claimed Dye had been engaging in white supremacist activity online under the username “Volkmom,” a nod to the back-to-the-land völkisch movement identified with the Nazis during WWII, according to The Daily Beast. Ang also provided leaked Identify Evropa chat logs showing regular posts from “Volkmom,” and she noted that Dye and Mackey had been singled out as Identity Evropa members by Nolan Brewer, whom the Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogated after he vandalized a synagogue in Carmel, Indiana, in July 2018, Buzzfeed News reports. Brewer identified Dye and Mackey by name and admitted he first met them through Discord, which, according to Slate Magazine, is a private chat platform for video-gamers that doubles as a haven for white supremacists. 

Ang argued that Schooner Creek Farm’s presence at the market made for an unsafe environment for “POC, queer people, people with disabilities, and the Jewish community.” Along with 230 community members, Ang said she was prepared to file a complaint with the Indiana State Department of Health and federal government agencies if farmers’ markets continued to welcome and support Dye and Mackey, whose white supremacist ties, the letter claims, had been “known for a long time.”


Protests and counter protests ensue

The Saturday after Ang submitted her letter, Mackey set up his usual vegetable display at the Bloomington farmers’ market, according to the Daily Student. But this time, he was met by Ang and other protesters who distributed fliers asking patrons to avoid the Schooner Creek Farm booth. One table had pins that read, “Don’t Buy Veggies From Nazis.”

Ang told The Daily Beast that, in the wake of her initial protest, some local residents had started passing out flyers saying she was defaming Dye and Mackey. Ang also said she received an email with racial slurs and had her picture posted on 8chan, where suggestions of violence against her spread. 

The New York Times reported that, “Anti-fascist protesters showed up one weekend dressed in black to stand in front of Schooner Creek Farm’s vegetable stall. A week later, armed members of a conservative militia group drove into Bloomington to support the farm against what they called anti-fascist enemies. Online, members of white nationalist groups have seized on the story and rallied behind Schooner Creek.”

Schooner Creek Farm not punished

According to the Daily Student, Bloomington’s program/facility coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Department emailed Ang, saying, “The City is constitutionally prohibited from discriminating against someone because of their belief system, no matter how abhorrent those views may be. The City may only intercede if an individual’s actions violate the safety and human rights of others.” 

In a June 20 statement, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said, “The City will not tolerate any vendor displays or behaviors at the market inconsistent with that fundamentally welcoming environment … On the other hand, we must also comply with the US Constitution’s First Amendment, which prohibits governments from restricting individuals’ rights to believe and speak as they choose, within very wide ranges, including those who sell at (or attend) a City-run farmers market.”

Protester arrested, leading to two-week market suspension

On July 27,  Cara Caddoo, a history professor at IU, was arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges for peacefully protesting outside of the designated protest area, according to Indiana Public Media. Caddoo had been holding up a sign condemning Dye and Mackey in front of the Schooner Creek Farm stand; although others were protesting nearby in support of the two owners, only she was arrested. This incident, in addition to other aggravating factors, such as protesters exercising their right to carry guns openly, drove the mayor to suspend the farmers’ market for two weeks, so that security practices could be updated, according to a July 29 press release from the Office of the Mayor. “In light of recommendations from our local public safety officials, advice from national experts, and awareness of recent tragic incidents of violence at similar public gatherings, we are hitting the pause button to protect public safety in Bloomington,” Hamilton wrote.

On July 31, Hamilton held a press conference defending his decision to suspend the market, saying, “Let me state the obvious, when conflict and tension are present in public gatherings, it is dramatically more difficult to protect public safety when firearms and other weapons are present and pervasive.”

During the suspension, pop-up markets were organized on Aug. 3 and 10 in place of the regular farmers’ market. 

Market reopens with new safety standards, in response to fears of white nationalist gun violence

After opening the mayor’s office up to comments, public forums, and expert input, the city of Bloomington announced on Aug. 13 it would reopen the market on Aug. 17. To ensure the relaunch ran smoothly, Hamilton released a five-point safety plan, including surveillance cameras, increased space for the market, more police and public safety officers, “market ambassadors” to promote inclusivity, and signs publicizing designated areas for expression. Hamilton also pointed to larger efforts to alleviate community tensions, including holding more community discussion events, reevaluating farmers’ market rules and standards for the next year, and supporting both outside and local mediating groups. The plan, however, did not include removing Schooner Creek Farm from attending the market for the rest of the summer. 

In response to concerns expressed by vendors and residents over the decision to allow Schooner Creek Farm to remain in the market, according to Public Media, Hamilton said, “If you don’t feel comfortable going to a public space, that’s your prerogative. But I don’t want to give up the essence of our community which is engaging together, coming together, enjoying lots of amenities like the farmers’ market together.”

In the wake of the reopening, flyers with candy attached were found among neighborhoods with signs promoting equality, reports WTHR. On Aug. 27, about 200 people gathered for an anti-hate rally outside the Monroe County Courthouse, according to the Daily Student. Tensions had escalated to such an extent by October that Hamilton solicited help from the Divided Community Project’s (DCP) Bridge Initiative at Ohio State University, which is expected to issue a report to guide next steps in Bloomington, reported  CBS4 WEB. According to Indiana Public Media, William A. Johnson, former mayor of Rochester, NY, and head of the Rochester NAACP, will facilitate the DCP’s efforts in Bloomington. “We requested the expert assistance of DCP’s Bridge Initiative to create an arena in which all stakeholders can peacefully and productively share concerns and contribute to meaningful change,” Hamilton told the CBS affiliate. “We are grateful for their guidance, and especially to the leadership of Mayor Johnson, and we look forward to sharing his findings.” 

Further protests take place

The farmers’ market held on Sept. 21 marked the first time the Purple Shirt Brigade gathered to protest the Schooner Creek Farm affair. The group, part of a larger activist network called No Space for Hate, gets its name from the purple T-shirts members wear to the farmers’ market rallies. One side is inscripted with a quote by philosopher and civil rights activist Cornel West, and the other with a blunt call to action: “Boycott Schooner Creek Farm.” The printed T-shirts allow the protesters to get their message(s) across without violating the signage rule Bloomington had imposed upon reopening the market, according to The Daily Beast. The rule mandates that signage and distribution of literature by market attendees are only permitted in certain areas, including outside of market boundaries and in another designated location. 

By November, Purple Brigade members had begun to test the limits of that law, to “find a way to protest directly in the market,” a spokesperson for the group told The Daily Beast.

“One week we brought purple fans to the market (they looked like signs), and the market staff let us get away with that. However, this week we created signs with statements made by SCF supporters about us (from Facebook comments),” the spokesperson said, in reference to a Nov. 9 farmers’ market protest that resulted in five sign carriers — dressed as unicorns, vikings, and Wonder Woman — getting arrested. As of Dec. 20, the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office remained uncertain if it will press charges against the five brigade members. “We’ve not reviewed the case yet. Of course, we would do a thorough review of the case before we made any decision at all,” County Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Kehr told Indiana Public Media

Fallout extends into winter months, prompting panel on First Amendment 

Although Schooner Creek Farm was allowed to vend at the Bloomington Farmers’ Market, the city prohibited the farm from attending the Bloomington Winter Farmers’ Market, which started Dec. 7, 2019, and was scheduled to continue into March 2020.

It was also on Dec. 7 that roughly 100 people attended a panel discussion convened by the city of Bloomington to address the intersection of Free Speech, white supremacy, and the protests that erupted over the farmers’ market saga, Public Media reports. 

The panel included two IU law professors, the executive director of ACLU Indiana, and the chief of police for Charlottesville, Virginia, which has experienced many tense public demonstrations. Discussion and questions focused on the legal rights and responsibilities of the city to address hate speech. 

Public Media writes that, while all the panelists agreed that rules based on specific beliefs or viewpoints violate the First Amendment, IU law professor Jeanine Bell emphasized that the city has the responsibility of ensuring all farmers’ market vendors adhere to all other policies — including anti-discrimination regulations. She further said that limiting hate speech on public property is possible, as long as those rules apply to everyone.

“You can regulate hate speech with time, place, and manner regulation because you’re actually able to regulate all types of speech,” Bell said.

Talks of privatization emerge

Who will set these regulations going forward remains a matter of debate. On Dec. 10, the Farmers’ Market Advisory Council discussed whether Bloomington’s city-run farmers’ market would be better run by a private group starting in 2020. The meeting, according to the Daily Student, ended with “uncertain feelings.” Marcia Veldman, the market coordinator, said this discussion marks the first time the board has seriously considered whether to recommend the change, despite conversations earlier in the year.