Two states are filing lawsuits to curtail the activities of a neo-Nazi organization
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Attorneys general in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are filing lawsuits to curtail the increasingly public activities of a neo-Nazi group called NSC-131. NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef joins us now. All right. NSC-131 - who are they, and what are they doing, Odette?
ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Well, A, NSC-131 stands for Nationalist Social Club Anti-Communist Action. It was started in 2019 by a Massachusetts man named Christopher Hood and now has an estimated 20 to 30 active members. They are explicitly neo-Nazi, pursuing a white nationalist agenda. And these suits relate to activities that the group undertook mostly in 2022, 2023, when it was deliberately trying to increase its public profile throughout New England. Its members disrupted several drag queen story hours at libraries and other establishments. They patrolled neighborhoods, and they visited several hotels that were putting up asylum-seekers, targeting and harassing migrants and other patrons. In several instances, A, the group has been involved in physical violence. But actually, these are not criminal charges. These are civil lawsuits.
MARTÍNEZ: Why not? I mean, they sound like crimes, especially violence. So why is this being pursued in civil court?
YOUSEF: Yeah. I put that question to Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, and here's what she said.
ANDREA CAMPBELL: We think we have a strong case here to hold them accountable, frankly, not focusing on individual acts, but the pattern and the persistent harassing and threatening behavior we're seeing that is targeting and terrorizing people all across the Commonwealth.
YOUSEF: So the strategy in Massachusetts, A, is to string together several incidents to argue that this organization is engaging in illegal activity to violate residents' civil rights. Now, in New Hampshire, the state's - that state's taking a different approach. That case is focusing on just one incident where the group disrupted a drag queen story hour at a restaurant in Concord. And the state's claiming that this amounted to trying to terrorize an establishment into violating the state's law against discrimination.
MARTÍNEZ: But you mentioned it's - what? - 20 to 30 members. So it doesn't sound like it would be a big threat, does it?
YOUSEF: Yeah. I mean, so groups like NSC-131 stage public activities to grab headlines to seem bigger than they are and to normalize their viewpoints. I think what we're seeing here is a kind of spaghetti-against-the-wall approach. Prosecutors have tried to go after this group before and failed, but they recognize the urgency to winning because Hood has actually signaled to his followers that the lack of legal consequence is a sign to keep engaging in physical confrontations.
MARTÍNEZ: You know, now I'm reminded of the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. That was also a civil suit there, and that brought about much accountability.
YOUSEF: It was, but that suit was brought by private citizens, A. Amy Spitalnick spearheaded that case, and she says it's encouraging now to see state prosecutors take action.
AMY SPITALNICK: The more of a model we have for the state to be holding extremists accountable, the better because litigation tends to help others see the path forward in their own states.
YOUSEF: And one final point - we're seeing both a Democratic AG in Massachusetts and a Republican AG in New Hampshire take action here. For many, this shows that going after violent extremists shouldn't be partisan. It's an issue of civil rights and public safety.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Odette Yousef. Thanks a lot.
YOUSEF: Sure thing.
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