Members of the neo-Nazi group NSC-131 disrupted a reading of “The Communist Manifesto” at the Red Ink Community Library in the Mount Hope neighborhood of Providence Feb. 21, banging on windows and screaming at attendees inside the building.
In videos posted to social media, the neo-Nazis can be seen carrying a swastika flag and wearing masks with skull and black sun insignia, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as symbols used by fascist groups.
The library-goers had gathered to hear and discuss selections from “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for Red Books Day, held annually on the anniversary of the pamphlet’s publication in 1848.
The Red Ink Community Library functions as a reading room, lending library and organizing space that was “always intended to be a joyous celebration of socialist values, of community building, education, knowledge and respect,” according to the library’s director David Raileanu.
After an initial library member stepped out to confront them and realized the disparity in numbers between the neo-Nazis and people inside the building, the library-goers decided to stay inside for safety. “It was a shouting match at that point until police showed up” 10 or 15 minutes later, he said. Police who responded to the incident identified 15 to 20 members of the neo-Nazi group, WPRI reported.
Raileanu said that the police were called by neighborhood residents. Those in the library had refrained from calling out of concern that introducing the police to a situation where “we did not immediately recognize any lethal threat of violence” would be a misstep. The Providence Police Department did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Raileanu emphasized that the library felt emboldened by community support following the event. After “a lot of fear and anxiety” initially, he said that “we have found a lot of comfort and resolve in the support we've received from the community.”
“People have stopped by to say hello, people have reached out on social media, by phone, by email and a lot of people have said how much they appreciate our presence in the community and how committed they are to making sure that we are able to continue meeting and reading and studying … and that they will not allow anything like this to ever happen again,” he said.
“Whether (the NSC-131 members) intended to or not, they have, fortunately for us, raised the profile of the ability of our organization and our library to share (our) message,” he added.
Community support was especially visible in a Feb. 23 rally against the neo-Nazis across the street from the library, which was attended by Gov. Dan McKee and activist leaders, according to reporting from WPRI.
NSC-131 took credit for the attack in posts on Gab and Telegram, a Herald review of both sites found. The two platforms are favored by far-right extremists for their relative lack of content moderation.
NSC stands for Nationalist Social Club, and 131 is alphanumeric code for Anti-Communist Action, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization which focuses on combatting antisemitism.
Peggy Shukur, deputy regional director of ADL’s New England branch, wrote in an email to The Herald that the group’s events have gradually become larger and more frequent. “Their demonstrations are … now every other week rather than every month,” she wrote. Shukur also noted that the group’s demonstrations now consist of “20 to 25 (members) per event,” while previously the group could only muster six or seven members for a demonstration.
Regarding the group’s tactics, Shukur wrote that “they are deliberate in targeting public events in a particular way, often through a march to the demonstration site in particular uniforms. They try to project a particular aesthetic.”
Shukur wrote that in addition to targeting radical bookstores, the group has focused recently on opposing anti-racist and queer events and organizations. In January, NSC-131 held demonstrations outside a Boston hospital working to improve racial equity in healthcare and a Portsmouth, N.H. drag show.
Harrison Tuttle, executive director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Political Action Committee, said that his initial reaction to the news was “disbelief that we would have neo-Nazis so openly in Rhode Island.”
Tuttle attributed the group’s increasing boldness to growing far-right sentiment across the country, as well as elected officials who have received the support of far-right groups, such as former President Donald Trump. “I really do believe that America is coming to a boiling point that could no doubt be attributed to Donald Trump,” he said.
“Although these elected officials are not directly connected to these far-right groups, their impact on the conversation and the rise of fascism is extremely concerning,” he said.
“There is no greater threat to Americans than white supremacist groups,” he added. “If we cannot … come out and treat Nazism as the threat that it is, then what are we going to respond with? Nazis are a direct threat to not only our democracy but also the lives of people, as evidenced outside of Red Ink Library.”
In a virtual community safety forum held Feb. 26 and attended by The Herald, library members and Mount Hope residents discussed possible improvements to discourage and respond to potential future attacks. Suggested solutions included a mandatory minimum attendance number for events to avoid being outnumbered, strengthening the library’s glass door, having designated security at events and building ties with other local organizations.
Congressman David Cicilline '83, a democrat in Rhode Island’s first congressional district, wrote in a Feb. 22 press release that he was “absolutely sickened by the image of a swastika waving in the streets of Providence.”
“Hate groups like neo-Nazis and white supremacists have no place in our city,” Cicilline wrote. “The rise of neo-Nazis, white supremacy and antisemitism in our country is not something we can afford to ignore. This hatred and last night’s attack are a scourge on our community, and we must all condemn it in the strongest terms.”