A man who told police in Burlington, Vermont that he was a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan distanced himself from the hate group Wednesday during an appearance in criminal court.
William Schenk, 22, of North Carolina, pleaded no contest to distributing KKK fliers to two women of color in Burlington last fall. One of the recipients of the fliers was black and one was Hispanic, according to investigators.
Schenk had argued he was just exercising his free speech rights by spreading fliers. Burlington Police said last year Schenk told them he was trying to increase the KKK's numbers in Vermont.
The latest news from around the state
Initially, Schenk entered a not guilty plea and had been jailed pending the outcome of the case. Wednesday, he changed the plea to no contest on two counts of disorderly conduct.
Schenk was sentenced to 120 days, which he had already served. But after his release from the custody of Vermont, he was taken into custody by authorities from New York, where he was wanted on unrelated charges.
Before his release, Schenk said in court he does not want to be a Klansman any longer, and that he has grown closer to his Mormon faith in his time behind bars.
One of the recipients of the KKK fliers, Jocellyn Harvey, told the judge finding the flier at her Burlington home created a great deal of anxiety and fear, because the imagery on the paper of a horse-mounted Klansman holding a burning cross is associated with decades of racial intimidation and violence.
"To feel like someone targeted me because, or partially because, I was a few shades darker than them, at a home where I live and that I pay for, was deeply disturbing," Harvey told the court.
"I would like to apologize to the victims," Schenk said in court. "If I caused any fear, I apologize."
Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan discounted Schenk's free speech claims, arguing Schenk targeted the women specifically because of their race and that no white people received fliers. Donovan told reporters the case is an important reminder that hatred and harassment are unacceptable in Vermont.
"Whether it's on the issue of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender, we will not tolerate this," Donovan said. "This is a crime in the state of Vermont. And we will continue to prosecute you, for those folks that continue to try to threaten, harass and hurt people because of the color of their skin."
The Burlington Free Press reported that Schenk plans to appeal the sentence.
WPTZ-TV contributed to this report.