Members of the Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Kirkland found them on June 30, which coincided with the last day of Pride month. The flier outside the Northlake Lutheran in Kenmore was found at the same time. It wasn’t the typical advertisement or promotional piece Eastsiders might expect. Instead the fliers promoted a group with neo-Nazi ties.
Katy McCallum Sachse has been a pastor at Holy Spirit Lutheran for 11 years, and never in that time had she received anything like the fliers. To her, the flier seems menacing.
“It feels like a threat when someone posts a picture of a guy with an M-16 on your door late at night,” McCallum Sachse said.
The words “censorship ends in violence” are written across the top of the flier, and at the center is a picture of the Christchurch shooter, a lone gunman responsible for an attack on Muslims during Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shooting resulted in the death of 51 people on March 15, 2019, and was broadcast live on Facebook.
Other symbolism is prevalent throughout the flier, including the badge used to single out the Jewish community in Europe during the Holocaust. It covers the gunman’s mouth. On the gun the words “refugees welcome to hell” are written.
On the bottom of the flier are the words “Increase free speech and increase the peace,” and “brought to you by your local Stormer Book Club (SBC).”
The flier is particularly concerning to McCallum Sachse, given that a former Woodinville Jewish congregation just recently moved into a Unitarian church in Kirkland, and will be sharing a space there.
“They just arrived in town officially this week,” McCallum Sachse said. “So to see this poster … with this Holocaust implication … is disturbing to me.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Daily Stormer Book Club consists of “small localized crews of young white men” who are followers and supporters of neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin. They’re a part of the alt-right segment of the white supremacist movement. “On the ground” members spread fliers and propaganda online.
Kirkland Police Lt. Rob Saloum said officers were advised of the flier and asked to provide extra patrol to area synagogues and places of worship. He added that there was no indication of any threat on the poster and that just the nature of the topic was of interest.
Pastor Anja Helmon owf Northlake Lutheran, noted that the Stormer Book Club website offers a disclaimer that they do not promote any violence. But she is unsure of how closely members of the neo-Nazi group would follow that message.
Helmon speculated on reasons why someone would put the fliers on the Kenmore and Kirkland churches, and not blanket churches as a whole. No one posted a flier outside First Lutheran Church of Bothell, she said.
She knows both Northlake Lutheran and Holy Spirit had a similar message outside their buildings at one time. “Jesus is a refugee,” was posted outside both churches, in Kenmore to help “others relate to people who are refugees in our country,” Helmon said. And both congregations have been involved with Pride events, celebrating LGBTQ.
“I feel like as a Chrisitian … if we’re serious about following Jesus, that means standing with people who get cast aside or judged or told they’re not good enough for whatever reason,” Helmon said. “Getting this kind of attention tells me we’re on the right track. It tells me we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”
The ADL is aware of similar actions taken by Daily Stormer Book Clubs in other states and communities, said Miri Cypers, Pacific Northwest regional director. And it’s not uncommon for members to make use of current events and public discussion to underscore “hateful narratives.”
Although, Cypers added, these are the first instances of these specific fliers the ADL has heard of in the Puget Sound.
“Issues around online platforms responding to hate and extremism have been front and center for them, and not surprisingly some anti-Semites are promoting the idea that Jews are trying to silence the masses. This flier is particularly ominous,” she said.
The Eastside is no stranger to these kinds of promotional pamphlets — similar palm-sized papers shoved inside plastic bags with pebbles have been found on front yards in King County. Those pamphlets, however, were the work of the Patriot Front, a white nationalist hate group based in Texas (according to the Southern Poverty Law Center).
When McCallum Sachse told the Kirkland congregation, which averages 450 people during Sunday service, about the flier, they were shocked.
“I think many people believe this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Kirkland, and I think it’s important that we be open to the fact that it does sometimes and we speak out very clearly against it,” McCallum Sachse said.
McCallum Sachse said safety conversations have been ongoing for the last few years. It’s why the church reported the flier to police and why it opted to have a security camera.
After finding the flier, however, the church isn’t going to do anything particularly different. It will continue to be clear in its intent — that the community stands firmly against the flier’s message and that God’s love is inclusive of all people.