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Diversity Discussion In Hudson Moves Forward Despite Online Threat To ‘Bring Your AR-15s’

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Speakers at a listening session about diversity and law enforcement called for community change Monday evening in Hudson after a commenter on the St. Croix County Republican Party’s Facebook page had publicly advised people to “bring your AR-15s and get rid of these communist Punk a—s.”

Organizers of the event had worried for the safety of their speakers following the comment, but pledged to move forward with the outdoor, privately organized event at a city park. A group of right-wing residents who attended sometimes jeered and shouted down speakers. At other times, supportive audience members applauded or shouted back at those disrupting the event.

The speakers, who included high school students, community members and a former police officer, called for changes in the Hudson Police Department. Some criticized specific officers by name, though many of the speakers also expressed broad support for the local department. The tone through much of the event was contentious and tense.

Organizers said the hecklers were there to shut down discussion in the suburban western Wisconsin community. Addison Filiatreaux, a teacher at the Sejong Academy who lives in Hudson and organized the event, said in the days leading up the event some speakers perceived the online comment about bringing assault weapons as a direct threat of violence.

“It makes people feel unsafe,” Filiatreaux said.

In an emotional interview, Filiatreaux said she had concerns for her own safety since she’s gotten involved with local social justice activism. In June, she helped organize a Black Lives Matter solidarity march. She saw the listening session as a next step in a community movement toward racial justice.

“I shouldn’t have to be having concerns that somebody’s going to come to my house and shoot me because I’m trying to make positive changes in my community,” Filiatreaux said. “I shouldn’t have to worry about the safety of people who come to this event to listen.”

Filiatreaux and others say the chair of the St. Croix County Republican Party, John Kraft, bears some responsibility for the online threat. The comment was left on a post made by Kraft that displayed a digitally altered photo showing black-clad protesters with a Soviet flag, a Black Lives Matter sign and an Antifa flag in downtown Hudson. The photo is not authentic, but it appeared from the reaction of online commenters that not all of them were aware of that.

In online comments, Kraft called the image “clickbait” and said “I believe it does capture the essence of the effect of this event.”

In a brief phone interview, Kraft denied the comment calling for people with guns to “get rid of” listening session participants was a threat.

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“Nobody posted an actual threat of violence,” Kraft said. “I’m not talking to you. Go away.”

Kraft did not respond to written messages sent via social media.

Another local activist, Andrew Hassan, said he got involved in part to counter the influence of a right-wing group active in the area called Citizens for the St. Croix Valley, which on its website calls itself “anti-Islam” and “anti-LGBT.” Hassan, whose father is Muslim and from Sudan, said threats of violence have become a normal part of political discourse on the right.

“There needs to be a bold statement,” Hassan said. “We need our city officials to stand up. I’m asking them to denounce the Citizens for the St. Croix Valley.”

The group was classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups. On its website, Citizens for St. Croix Valley called the Southern Poverty Law Center “a scam.”

Hassan, a banker with two children in local schools, said he opposes calls to “defund the police,” and denied the listening session was against law enforcement. He said his own goal is to urge local officials to create a citizens advisory board with the ability to influence Police Department policies.

Local officials and the Hudson police chief sat onstage at the event, but they did not speak, as the event was not a city meeting and their being there would have broken Wisconsin’s open meetings law if they had.

“I’m here today not because I want to be, but because I have to be,” Hassan said at the event. “I’m done being quiet.”

This content was originally published here.

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