Group faces civil rights penalties for race-motivated banner

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A group accused of displaying “Keep New England White" banners from an overpass in New Hampshire faces state Civil Rights Act violations, the attorney general's office said Tuesday.

The complaints allege that on July 30, 2022, the Nationalist Social Club, also known as NSC-131, and two of its members trespassed upon public property and were motivated by race in hanging the banners from the overpass overlooking U.S. Route 1 in Portsmouth. About 10 people took part, the complaints said.

“I'd like to take a moment to say that hate, intimidation and divisiveness are simply not part of the fabric of this great city," Police Chief Mark Newport said at a news conference in Portsmouth, noting its history as a safe harbor going back to 1630, and its place in history as the site of a treaty that formally ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

The complaints ask a judge to enter an order prohibiting the group and its members from engaging in threatening physical force or violence and discriminatory behavior for three years.

Attorney General John Formella said his office's civil rights unit is investigating additional hate-motivated incidents in New Hampshire's Seacoast area. He declined to provide details.

NSC-131 has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a New England-based neo-Nazi group founded in 2019 that “espouses racism, antisemitism and intolerance” and whose “membership is a collection of neo-Nazis and racist skinheads, many of whom have previous membership in other white supremacist groups.”

A message seeking comment from the group was left at a possible email address.

In Massachusetts last year, the district attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, announced the addition of civil rights prosecutors over concerns about actions by NSC-131, citing a neo-Nazi protest at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a gathering at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston, a Patriot Front march, and a protest against a children's drag queen story hour in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.

Separately, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins condemned the actions of NSC-131, called them cowards, and said she would establish a tip line for residents to report white supremacist activity.

In New Hampshire, the complaints say that Portsmouth police received 911 calls about the banners. When officers responded, they saw about 10 men on the overpass wearing hats, sunglasses and face coverings emblazoned with “NSC-131," or “131."

One of the men wasn't wearing those items and spoke with police. He appeared to be the leader.

The officers said the banners couldn't couldn't hang from the overpass without a permit. The man gave the group instructions to remove the banners. Some members continued to display the banners by hand before returning to their vehicles and leaving.

The man was accused of two civil rights violations and faces a possible penalty of $10,000. Another man who old police, “You're not interfering with my friends and interfering with our rights," also was named in the complaints and faces a possible $5,000 penalty. Contact information could not be found for them, and it wasn't immediately known if they had attorneys.

Formella said his office is working to identify the rest of the group.