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Technically, I guess, it’s vandalism that someone has marked the Galloway Trail, where I often run, with the words “God Loves You” in chalk.
It’s a pleasant and positive message, although I know some consider God a mythical creature.
But last weekend something different appeared at two different parts of the trail.
It was a spray-painted message promoting a group called the Patriot Front.
The message called for someone — me? — to “Reclaim America.”
I saw the message on my Monday morning run in the tunnel that goes under Battlefield Road. I took photos.
My friend, colleague and fellow runner Jackie Rehwald saw the same message on her Sunday morning run on the same trail, but at a different location: under the highway near the James River.
We both independently snapped photos.
I’m going to quickly explain what the Patriot Front is. It’s a white supremacist hate group that, at least thus far, has been more prone to vandalism than violence.
ProPublica, a nonprofit news site, spent several months investigating the group and concluded in a lengthy 2019 story that it has an estimated 300 members nationally.
That tells me they haven’t exactly cornered the “I hate Jews and immigrants” market.
But clearly, there is someone living in this area who is, at least, trying to Reclaim Springfield.
In September, someone plastered Patriot Front stickers on street lamps and other poles in and around the Missouri State University campus. The Springfield News-Leader reported on this.
In July 2020, for a brief moment, a Patriot Front banner was unfurled from the Kansas Expressway. The News-Leader reported on this, as well.
When I spotted the spray-painted message Monday, I only vaguely recalled the news stories.
More than anything, it struck me as odd that someone would go to the trouble of spraying a message along a running-and-biking trail in a dimly lit tunnel.
Is their target demographic racist runners wearing night-vision goggles?
What the Patriot Front says in its manifesto
When I found out the same message was painted a couple of miles farther south on the trail, I wondered: How do you pack the spray paint?
Is the culprit riding a bicycle with a backpack?
The group’s website has what most nonprofits would call a “mission statement.” Hate groups like to call it a “manifesto.”
Violence is not encouraged on the website, there are just a lot of references to “fear” and “annihilation” as in — “Our national way of life faces complete annihilation as our culture and heritage are attacked from all sides.”
This threat of complete annihilation — the worst kind of annihilation — is not something to sneeze at, although I’ll just put this out there: the people of Ukraine might be a bit more fearful these days than all us white guys in America.
According to the manifesto, “Democracy has failed this once great nation.”
So what do we do?
“America needs a generation of brave men to fearlessly rise to face all threats to their collective interests.”
(Not in manifesto) So take up, I say, your cans of spray paint in the dead of night and Reclaim America in the tunnels and underpasses of this once proud nation! Just like all those fellow patriots who tag railway cars!
Jenny Fillmer Edwards, spokesperson for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, tells me she received a complaint about the Patriot Front vandalism even before I sent her photos.
She said staff from the Park Board would quickly clean it up.
Just so you know, I am obligated to try to reach someone at the Patriot Front for comment, even though they make it clear on their website they don’t want to chat with me.
“The organization does not participate in interviews with journalists.”
I sent them an email, regardless, under the tab “join,” which was my only option for actual contact.
(Please note, Brittany Meiling – my boss – if you hear from the FBI, I was not really trying to join.)
In the process of “joining,” I had to submit my age.
Yet, the scroll for age only went to 35. Is this not age discrimination?
As a 68-year-old white guy of great privilege, it makes me feel like I’m on the verge of complete annihilation!
This is Pokin Around column No. 12.