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.Continue reading