TRENTON — A neo-Nazi organization whose events have attracted sometimes violent counterprotests will hold a rally in front of the Statehouse on April 16, said the group’s New Jersey representative, Jason Hiecke.
The National Socialist Movement will hold a two-day conference in the area, including a rally of 75 to 150 people on the second day, Hiecke said. The State Police said the group has been issued an event permit.
Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League describe the Detroit-based NSM as the nation’s largest neo-Nazi group and say it promotes an anti-Semitic and racist ideology through rallies, a website and other online activities.
Etzion Neuer, director of the Anti-Defamation’s office in Teaneck, said the NSM group seems to be trying to raise its local profile.
“The group has had a presence in New Jersey for some time,” Neuer said. “I’d be hard-pressed to find the last time we’ve seen a gathering of this sort in New Jersey. It’s been several years. And it’s disturbing.”
Hiecke said Brian Holland, a presidential candidate in 2008 and NSM member from Virginia, may attend the gathering in Trenton. Hiecke described the event as a political rally. He disputed the characterization of his group as racist.
“We’re basically speaking about the corruption here in New Jersey politics, the immigration problem that faces our nation, and the revolving-door criminal system,” he said. Other issues he cited were the state’s high property taxes, child molesters who he said are allowed to go out in the public wearing ankle bracelets, an alleged “double standard” in which only crimes by whites against minorities are described as “hate crimes,” overspending on foreign aid, and the shipping of jobs overseas.
“We’re all considered racists or white supremacists, but that’s not what most of our members are about,” he said. At the same time, he noted that the organization’s symbol is a swastika, the symbol used by Adolf Hitler and Nazis during World War II and the Holocaust.
While the NSM discusses issues that are part of mainstream political discourse, they clearly set themselves apart, Neuer said.
“The National Socialist Movement is distinctive in that they will wear Nazi-style uniforms,” he said. “One will typically see them dressed in swastikas, even more than most white supremacists. The visual that we might see of neo-Nazis clad in uniforms on the steps of the Capitol will revolt most New Jerseyans.”
“There are scores of organizations that one may affiliate with in order to express conservative viewpoints,” he added. The uniforms “would suggest something much more severe than conservative politics.”
Such rallies have previously attracted counterprotesters from the organization Anti-Racist Action and other groups. An NSM rally and march in Phoenix in November reportedly turned into a riot after the counterprotesters tried to block the marchers.
“They always want to accuse us of being the violent ones, and all we are doing is exercising our freedom of speech and giving people an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans,” Hiecke said.
Neuer confirmed that the NSM members have not started the violence at past events, and he advised people to stay away from April’s rally.
“New Jersey is a state that has tremendous diversity, and by and large there’s a healthy respect for differences,” he said. “Nothing would upset the National Socialist Movement members more than seeing people being accepting of our differences. I would suggest people resist the temptation to protest against this group.”
Hub City Anti-Racist Action, the New Brunswick chapter of the organization that has protested at previous NSM rallies, could not be reached for comment.
The rally will occur at the same that Thomas Edison State College will, for the first time, hold an April commencement at the nearby War Memorial, college spokesman Joseph Guzzardo said. He said thousands of people are expected for the graduation. The college has not decided if it will adjust its plans, Guzzardo said.