A man who recently moved to Burlington, Vermont, denied two charges of disorderly conduct, for allegedly placing Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers at the doors of two women of color in Burlington.
William Schenk, 21, was ordered held on $15,000 bail.
"Just a lot of emotions," said Jocellyn Harvey, who attended Friday's court hearing, describing what it was like to see the man in person who allegedly placed a KKK flier at her door. "I did want to come and I wanted to see him, and for him to see me. Because if he's going to leave that on my door as an act of intimidation, then he should be able to look me in the face at the same time."
Police wrote in paperwork filed with the court that Schenk described himself as a recruiter for the KKK, and that he stated in an investigator's interview that he was looking to boost the KKK's numbers in Vermont because he was its only member in the state. In court paperwork, police recounted how Schenk claimed he was previously able to draw new KKK applicants in North Carolina, where he used to live.
Schenk also described for police, according to court filings, how he would follow KKK rules for distributing fliers, including not placing them in mailboxes, because "it's a federal thing." Instead, he would roll up papers to slip behind doorknobs, sometimes adding candy to them.
"I do not believe the state has set out facts sufficient to show threatening behavior," defense attorney Sandra Lee said in court, as she entered not guilty pleas for her client on the two disorderly conduct charges.
Some observers have wondered if those fliers could be seen a display of free speech. However, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan argued because police could find no other recipients in the area, just the two women of color, that the intention was intimidation, not recruitment.
"It does create a threat, given the long history of the Ku Klux Klan," Vermont Superior Court Judge Jim Crucitti ruled, affirming an earlier decision to find probable cause for the charge.
"I think this is a case, at least in the last 75 to 100 years, in this state, that probably hasn't been addressed," Donovan said. "Obviously that's concerning."
Donovan said Schenk was a risk of fleeing the area if he were not held on bail, because there were warrants out for Schenk's arrest in North Carolina, where he had an arson conviction, and in New York.
The Champlain Valley Area NAACP said the case is a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to erase racism. "We are all one," said Mary Brown-Guillory of the NAACP.
Donovan said if Schenk is found guilty, typically, he could receive up to two months in prison for each of the two disorderly conduct convictions. However, Donovan said in this case, prosecutors could push for extra time, up to two extra years on each count, because of an added hate crime component in the punishment phase.