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Poison rhetoric trickles down


In Donald Trump, America has a presidential candidate who's called Mexican immigrants rapists who bring drugs and crime into the country.

He talks about Islam only in the context of terrorism. And he once said that Muslim refugees or immigrants should be blocked from entering the US; now he says that they should undergo "extreme vetting."

When the person seeking the highest office in government talks like that, it's bound to embolden bigots; it creates a space where they feel safe to give voice and action to sentiments previously hidden.

Locally, we have the emergence of White Rochester, a group promoting white supremacy without actually using the term.

Some Pittsford and Brighton residents have had leaflets left on their property, directing them to White Rochester's website, Nobody's taken responsibility for the website and the fliers, and there's nothing inherently criminal about either. But Brighton police are trying to track down an SUV whose driver was caught on a surveillance camera dropping one of the leaflets on a driveway.

The website says that White Rochester is trying to "Make (Rochester) great again by making Rochester whiter." It says it's looking for people who have a white-European consciousness, an interest in promoting European-white races, and are preferably agnostic.

One of White Rochester's goals, according to its website, is to challenge "attempts to turn whites into a minority," which has long been a talking point of white nationalists. The leaflets are alarming because of their message, the fact that they're spreading, and because the people distributing them are sneaky — dropping off their literature during the overnight hours.

Rochester-area communities have dealt with public displays of bigotry and hate before. Brighton, which has Monroe County's largest Jewish population, had a swastika painted on one of its streets in the recent past, for example. And last year, three males were arrested and accused of burning crosses into the lawn of a Sufi mosque in Carlton, Orleans County.

But the bigots seem to be growing more confident, locally and across the country. One White Rochester supporter, going by the name "Steven," for example, called into WXXI's Connections last week during a part of the program dedicated to the fliers and to PittsFORWARD. The community group formed in response to White Rochester to show that Pittsford values diversity and inclusion.

Connections screens its callers, but "Steven" pulled a bait and switch, Connections producer Megan Mack tweeted after the program. He told the screener he wanted to talk about one thing, but when he got on the air, he asked host Evan Dawson why White Rochester wasn't on the show, too. Dawson said the group isn't invited.

"Steven" also suggested that Dawson go to Avenue D in Rochester and "ask who's causing the crime."

Mack and Dawson were also flooded with tweets from White Rochester supporters, though the accounts didn't appear to be local.