Jaimi Hajzus woke up Saturday morning to a string of worried texts.
Friends in her hometown of Coudersport, Pa., said someone had gone house to house the previous night and left plastic Baggies filled with lollipops, rocks and paper fliers on dozens of lawns in the town’s main thoroughfare.
Inside, they found a disturbing message.
“Are there troubles in your neighborhood?” the fliers read. “Contact the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan today!”
Printed on the crinkled slips of paper was an image of a hooded Klansman pointing a finger in the style of the iconic Uncle Sam recruitment poster, along with something of a slogan: “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.”
Hajzus said she and others believe a new white supremacist cell in the area might be behind the campaign, but they’re struggling to decide what the strange parcels mean for the town of 2,500, and how the community should respond.
“I feel like they’re trying to pick a fight, and I don’t want to bring a gun to a knife fight,” Hajzus told The Washington Post Monday. “It’s hard to know how strongly to approach this.”
Coudersport isn’t alone.
Similar packages have recently turned up in communities around the country – from California to Kansas to New Jersey – many of them in the roughly 15 months since Dylann Roof allegedly gunned down nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Each incident follows a similar pattern, with residents waking up to find small plastic bags on their front lawns containing pro-KKK missives. The bags are often weighed down by rocks and sometimes come with a few candies stuffed inside.
Just a day after residents in Coudersport discovered the Baggies on their lawns, nearly identical packages showed up at homes in Whittier, California, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The flier inside contained a disparaging screed against African Americans and came with a rock and a lollipop, one longtime resident told the paper. It also listed a phone number and a mailing address for the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, she said. A week earlier, 100 residents in Fullerton, California, found similar packages at their homes, the LA Times reported.
In July, hundreds of residents in three Indiana counties received fliers - also stuffed into bags with rocks - criticizing immigrants and homosexuals and calling on people to “wake up” and join the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Indianapolis Star reported. Similar Baggies have turned up in Michigan, New Jersey, Kansas, Alabama, and elsewhere since 2015.
Whether it’s all part of a national campaign or individual KKK cells around the country mimicking one another is hard to tell - Klan groups tend to be highly decentralized, and members typically haven’t claimed responsibility for their publicity campaigns. But one state KKK leader told the Daily Beast last year that the Klan has stepped up its recruitment efforts as calls have grown to remove the Confederate flag from public spaces.
“We’re doing this from the East Coast to the West Coast, just to let people know the Klan’s in their community,” Robert Jones, the grand dragon of the North Carolina-based Royal White Knights, said. “Especially with all the stuff that’s in the news – in South Carolina they’re wanting to take the Confederate flag down.”
‘Nothing we can do’
Police response has generally been muted. Aside from keeping an eye on local KKK activities, police departments tend not to conduct deep investigations because the fliers are protected by the First Amendment.
“There’s nothing we can do about it except be aware about it,” one police officer told the IndyStar in July.
KKK cells proliferated nationwide in 2015, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist activity. The number of Klan groups rose from 72 in 2014 to 190 last year, although part of that may be the result of two larger KKK groups disappearing, SPLC said in its most recent “Year in Hate and Extremism” report. Last year also saw a rise in new and previously disbanded KKK chapters, including the 31-chapter United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, SPLC said.
In Coudersport, Hajzus said community members are taking matters into their own hands.
Hajzus, 35, said she lives a couple hours away from Coudersport, but travels there regularly to see family. She said the community was already on high alert about hate groups in the area, which was once home to the Aryan Nations leader August Kreis, who is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence for sexually molesting a child.
In August, Hajzus and about 40 residents in the area got together to protest a rally by an apparently new white supremacist group in a neighboring town. So when the pro-KKK fliers showed up on Saturday, she moved quickly, she said.
Hajzus and a local resident, Joe Leschner, started a Facebook group to organize concerned residents and spread the word. Local police told PennLive that 10 to 15 homes were hit, but Hajzus and Leschner said they believed it was several dozen.
Leschner, a store manager in the area, called on people who had received the Baggies to send them to him so he could ship them back to the KKK chapter listed on the flier.
“It’s really creepy,” Leschner said in a Facebook Live video posted Saturday. “I have no idea what this mess is, but it’s not wanted in our town.”
A 1-800 number advertised on the flier as a “24-hour Klanline” went straight to a full voice mail box on Monday night.
Hajzus said she doesn’t know who is behind the fliers, but said she has been “taunted” on social media recently by members of a National Socialist group in the area since the attended the protest in August. The group has used the European social network VK to promote a “national socialist meeting” in nearby Ulysses, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 8, saying “all white patriots welcome.”
Hajzus said she hopes the community will come out against the group’s activities - as well as other hate groups in the area.
“As much as some of us would love to ignore something like this and hope it goes away, the problem is that the same flier has been distributed in other places,” she said. “If this is actually a resurgence of a hateful and violent group, then we need to take a stance.”