Vermont’s National Reputation Gets a Well-Earned Bruising

Might be time for Vermont Tourism & Marketing to hire a crisis communications specialist. Because two times in recent days, stories have appeared in national media outlets putting Vermont in a very bad light. Both times, the subject was Vermont officialdom’s passive response to white extremism.

First, a pair of pieces on public radio’s “This American Life” about the Slate Ridge militia “training center” in West Pawlet; second, an essay in USA TODAY by Michael Shank of Brandon, who says he is moving out because of white supremacist activity near his home. (And let’s not forget that earlier this year, the New York Times ran a long piece about the residents of West Pawlet “living in fear” because of Slate Ridge.)

The Slate Ridge saga is familiar ground for those who follow the news. Various legal actions are wending their way through the court system, while Slate Ridge continues to be a disruptive presence. Its owner Daniel Banyai is defiant toward local and state officials, and their response seems oddly muted. Meanwhile, the people of West Pawlet are just trying to get by.

For me, Shank’s essay really hit home. For starters, I’d never heard that white extremists were a problem in Brandon. That made me wonder how many other pockets of extremism are present in Vermont, particularly in rural Vermont where local regulations are lax and local officials lack the heft and/or willingness to tackle these situations.

But the heart of Shank’s message is that white extremism is on the rise, and official Vermont has failed to respond. I think he’s dead on.

How many of these situations do we have to live through? How many Michael Shanks have to choose between living in fear and leaving? How many people of color have to be harassed out of their homes, or out of the state? How many give up careers in the public sphere because of harassment that goes unchallenged by relevant officials?

Lookin’ at you, Vermont State Police. Lookin’ at you, state’s attorneys. Lookin’ at you, TJ Donovan. If you want to do something that (a) fosters justice and (b) burnishes your political credentials, why not take on some high-profile prosecutions or mount a forceful public campaign against hate?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Donovan has talked of the limits of the law where the First Amendment is concerned. He has a point, although I’d argue that in cases like Max Misch or Slate Ridge, he should be pushing the boundaries of the law. It’s not uncommon for elected prosecutors to pursue cases they’re likely to lose, for the sake of principle and as a public statement.

As long as we’re talking forceful public campaigns, how about it, Governor Scott? Make it clear, as often as you can, that hate is unacceptable here. Don’t be afraid to name names. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. If that’s not enough incentive, do it as an economic development measure. Let’s stop losing people because they can’t live here in peace. In the face of this unflattering (and accurate) national publicity, let’s make sure we don’t get a bad reputation.

And let’s not forget the Legislature. Are there any ways we could change the law, so that hate doesn’t get a free pass?

Vermonters are really good at ignoring a problem as long as they can. We’ve ignored white extremism, or chalked it up to a handful of malcontents. But it’s bigger than that. Besides, even a single incident shouldn’t be left to fester while we take false comfort in our self-image as an open, tolerant place.

It’s time for everyone in public office to stop with the Sincere Statements of Concern and make this a front-burner priority.


8 thoughts on “Vermont’s National Reputation Gets a Well-Earned Bruising

  1. zim

    You are really are clueless John. Did you even bother to talk to anyone in this town?

    He does not live anywhere near Slate Ridge. He lives in Brandon. W Pawlet is about an hr south of Brandon which means its in another world. Brandon has nothing going on like Slate Ridge. Been by Shanks neighborhood many times and its just your typical rural backwater with working class and rural poor for neighbors – which is really what his piece is about – hatred of the poor and working class. Because his superior moral values and his Piled Higher Deeper stamp on his ass, he believed he has the right to trump his poor neighbors. He intentionally set to work trying to f**k them over with his bullshit politicking in order to get ordinances passed that enshrine his world view, his white privilege and his comfort at the expense of his ‘lessers’. He has ZERO support in the community not because we are all racist but because Shank is a giant, arrogant, condescending ,self-serving egotistical asshole.

    Its funny that Shank begins his story with ‘entitled white men’. Shank is a poster boy for entitled white males. The story of Shank is this: He moves into Brandon waving his Phd in everyone’s face, claiming he is THE ‘expert’ on ‘sustainability’. He gets himself on town committees and begins to tell everyone they’re clueless bumkins and they need to do whatever he says cause – you know – he is a white male with a phd who knows better. Of course us rural folks tell him to take a flying f**k. First off, his expertise lies in self promotion and grandstanding. He is basically a shill for industry, all his written works are profoundly unoriginal and basically talking points for the RE industry, the Elon fan-boy club (which is the definition of white male supremacy in another cover), etc. He has no clue what the issues are or what sustainability actually is but you know, white males with Phds get a pass on any bullshit that comes out of their mouths (and you are doing your part to keep that way).

    Anyway, he gets the idea that he can save this corner if the world and run for local rep and get slapped down at the voting booth. His then throws a tantrum about this because its proof we are all dumb as shit and a danger to the world. Around the same time his clueless wife and another woman decide to run for Select-board as a team – which is one of the most moronic strategies ever. The platform is filled with a lot of progressive pabulum and high sounding moral bullshit but no real substance. Local people asked for more clarity on what their actual policy positions were and how they were going advance them. The twin idiots hadn’t a clue and got roundly beaten at the voting booth. Shank blew a bolt and denounced the town as misogynistic and un-inclusive even though we voted in Stephanie Jerome last election and Bill Moore is one of our most valued public servants along with Sue Gage, who is one of the best town clerks in the state and Molly Kennedy who is our great and dedicated head librarian. The Select-board has a nice mix of characters who actually care about this town and do not drag the sewer of national politics into the system of governance or the public discourse. Shank is c-rated buffoon who has done nothing for this town except try to use it as a vehicle for his own self-promotion and aggrandizement.

    His tantrum included resigning from the various committees in protest of him and is wife losing an election – like what a f-ing child. Now he feels that his presence here is sooooo f-ing important that the State needs to step in and tell his neighbors that the rich white boy next door needs to have his way. Well that is not going to happen around here.

    The truly sick, cynical thing about Shank is the inability to understand racism and the fact that it has always been a weapon of class domination in this country. As a wealthy, very priviledged white boy, he is just an other charlatan, the ‘progressive’ face of white supremacy. Here he is shitting on poor rural folks whose politics are literally the creation of the Democratic party. Its really characters like Shank that perpetuate systemic racism by neither challenging it or dismantling it. Doing so would undermine his own affluence and privileged position in society. That is the thing in Vermont, the real and systemic racism hides behind its classism, busily maintaining the barricades of white male supremacy (zoning laws, professional controls, affluent white male mansplaining in all its forms, high cost of living, high taxes, etc) that keep out the riff raff (POC) and trap the native poor and working class in wage slavery.

    So if this is the kind of human being you are defending, well then… are just another face of white male supremacy in denial.

  2. zim

    And of course what Shank is doing is the essence of racial capitalism. He is using POC vis-a-vis white extremists to advance his own economic and social standings, much like all those who live in expensive upscale white communities and place BLM signs on their lawns. People who benefit handsomely from the system but actually do nothing to change anything but vote to keep the same system year after year.

  3. walter h moses

    I’d rather live in Brandon than Burlington. Much safer than dealing with the thugs loose on the streets in the “queen city”. Even if they are so incompetent with a gun they can’t hit the side of a barn if they were inside it. My grandfather used to say ” couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle”.
    I agree with Zims comments. Met a few of those characters.

  4. walter h moses

    You got that right. I can remember christmas shopping in Burlington as great good time. Not anymore. Thank god for I 89. It gets you by that rat hole.

  5. H. Jay Eshelman

    Re: “I’d rather live in Brandon than Burlington.”

    Multiple shootouts recently reported as Burlington City Council again declines more officers…

    “For that month (June, 2021), 2,081 total incidents were reported. These include one murder, two felony domestic assaults, three aggravated assaults, 10 stolen cars, ten drug overdose calls, 15 burglaries, 20 incidents of vandalism, and more.”

    Just sayin’.

  6. Jw davis

    Just watch the videos on the local news, the Burlington shooters sure didn’t look like white extremists. Right on Zim


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