Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler released a “diversity statement” on Tuesday following incidents of racist propaganda sighted in Bremerton within the last five weeks.
The statement did not make direct mention of the incidents but stressed what Wheeler called Bremerton’s inclusive values and provided a rough outline of plans for the city to improve “diversity and equal opportunity” in the coming year.
“The City of Bremerton values the principles that encourage inclusion, tolerance and respect for all,” Wheeler wrote. “Any effort that endorses hate has no place in Bremerton.”
“My focus is to honor diversity and different perspectives in our City,” he continued, “while encouraging a culture that is safe, welcoming and respectful of all residents.”
The release follows a spate of incidents that have alarmed some Bremerton residents.
Since early December hundreds of flyers supportive of the radical white nationalist group Patriot Front have been spotted in Bremerton, resulting in two news stories and a public outcry to the city council.
The Bremerton Police Department issued a statement on December 21 reporting witnesses saw “young white nationalists” “walking around town posting handbills” on utility poles. Sgt. Jeff Schaefer called the posters “vitriolic propaganda” and confirmed that it is a misdemeanor to post handbills on city property.
The posters bore messages like “Not Stolen, Conquered,” “Better Dead Than Red,” “Resurrection Through Insurrection,” and “Blood and Soil,” a nationalist phrase used by Nazis in support of an ethnically German state.
Patriot Front is a white separatist, virulently anti-immigrant group that spun off from the neo-Nazi outfit Vanguard America in 2017.
At a Bremerton city council meeting on December 19 about a dozen citizens of various racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds expressed outrage at the incidents and called for a community response.
“Blood and Soil is a group with racist, xenophobic, white nationalist, anti-Semitic and colonialist rhetoric and ideology,” said Lindsey Haley, referring to the Patriot Front credo. She said she spent hours removing signs from her neighborhood.
“How will we as a community respond to the hateful and harmful rhetoric in our community?” Airen Lydick said.
“Patriot Front advocates ‘resurrection through insurrection,” Wendy Jones said. “That’s violence.”
Wheeler issued the statement one day after a jarring report from the Kitsap Sun showed Patriot Front activity had continued into the new year. Over the weekend the group tossed numerous signs into front yards in Union Hill, the posters sealed in plastic bags weighted down with rocks.
The mayor’s statement does not mention the incidents directly, but calls for “justice and equality” for Bremerton residents and indicates two policy measures meant to “improve diversity and equal opportunity” in the city.
One is the development of a “workforce diversity plan,” which received funding in the city budget. The plan will analyze the city’s hiring practices to ensure that personnel policies “are updated to reflect our community,” the mayor wrote.
The second is an effort to “help build connections and strengthen communication” in local neighborhoods, an initiative the mayor said he will be providing more information on in the coming months.
“I believe all of these efforts in 2019 will support diversity in our City and help create a welcoming environment for all,” Wheeler wrote. “I look forward to sharing our progress over the year.”
The mayor’s complete statement can be read here.
Gabe Stutman is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. Follow him on Twitter @kitsapgabe.