The heckling in Nashua, where far-right members of the Proud Boys and neo-Nazis have attended previous meetings, is not an isolated event. The affairs of local government and the state of New Hampshire are increasingly strained as anti-government activists – including enemies of COVID-19 vaccinations, mask warrants and even federal grants to fight the virus – turned traditionally quiet meetings into ugly screaming matches.
Such behavior still stands out in longtime New England, although it is increasingly common in other parts of the country.
“It’s really horrible, frankly,” said Raymond, who also asked fellow board member Paula Johnson to leave the Oct. 5 meeting because she refused to wear a mask.
Another board member, Gloria Timmons, said she received alarming threats via social media after supporting the masking policy. One, from August 21, warned: “No Communist or Socialist should have ANY place in ANY government, but should be hunted down and exterminated along with their supporters, just to be sure.”
Timmons, who is black, is a disabled military veteran and former president of the Grand Nashua branch of the NAACP.
Elsewhere, state police arrested nine people on Wednesday at a state executive council meeting in Concord. Protesters had urged the council, which shares authority with the governor to administer state affairs, to reject $ 27 million in federal funds to support the state’s vaccination effort. The Republican-dominated board of directors conformed to a 4-1 vote along party lines.
On September 29, an earlier protest on the issue prompted the Executive Council to adjourn due to security concerns for state employees. Some protesters shouted at the advisers, “We know where you live. “
In Merrimack, a meeting in September to reconsider the mask’s mandate in schools was disrupted by protesters, one of whom targeted State Representative Rosemarie Rung, a local Democrat, with slurs and obscene gestures, she declared. In February, Rung found a headless chicken in his yard.
On October 2, approximately 1,200 people closed traffic outside the State House with an impromptu march for “medical freedom”. And in Hollis, a longtime Republican select resigned last month after being heckled for wearing a mask to a meeting.
That selectman, Peter Band, explained he wore his mask due to concerns for people including his 101-year-old stepmother and two medically vulnerable parents. Band then changed his affiliation to a Democratic party.
Raymond said the Nashua School Board now typically posts two police officers at its meetings.
“This is my fourth year on the board, and the first time we need to do this. It’s not good for our community, ”said Raymond. “The Proud Boys started showing up at our meetings in June, and then in July we brought in the NSC-131 group. They are neo-Nazis and came in formal attire with swastikas on their arms.
Although these groups no longer show up, their puzzling effect has persisted.
“We allowed people to share their thoughts even if they were screaming, but it got to the point where people are no longer waiting for the comment period. They scream during the meeting and interrupt what we have to do, ”Raymond said.
For opponents of the vaccination and mask warrants, growing anger at public meetings is a natural progression of the long-simmering alarm within the government’s grasp.
“Thousands of New Hampshire citizens are angry and hurt because they lose their jobs for no apparent reason, or have their children put on masks that have been proven not to work,” said Andrew Manuse, founder of RebuildNH, an activist group that opposes any mandate or restriction related to COVID.
“These are people who are not used to attending public meetings. These are people who just want to go about their daily business, ”added Manuse. “They are not used to being oppressed by their country.
Manuse said his group, which helped organize the Concorde march, does not approve of disruptions that interfere with public affairs.
“RebuildNH wants to be a way for these people to express themselves,” said Manuse. “To disrupt meetings and shut them down, I don’t think that’s effective activism. I don’t think this is an effective strategy.
Manuse said he hopes the anger does not lead to violence, but added that the unrest is expected to escalate.
“Civilian methods don’t work, and they resort to these other methods,” Manuse said. “I think you’re going to see more, unless some of this advice starts to listen to more from these parents.”
Manuse, a financial consultant from Derry, cited Nazi war crimes as an example of the dangers of “medical tyranny”. He also forwarded to the Globe a sermon from an online ministry that, in 90 minutes, went from the “mark of the beast” in the New Testament book of Revelation to Nazi regimentation, questions of links. satanic with COVID. -19 vaccine.
“What you see with the vaccine warrants and the mask warrants is certainly concerning when you look at the patterns in history that have led to tyrannical regimes,” Manuse said.
What some New Hampshire lawmakers are seeing is a deliberate and organized attack on democracy.
“I think it’s an effort to intimidate and an effort by some people who don’t believe in government to undermine government,” said State Representative Renny Cushing, a Democrat from Hampton who is the leader of the minority in the House.
“We have people who hate the government but want to have control over it,” Cushing said. “We are going through a very dangerous time, and it is based on the big lie that our elections are not fair.”
Dante Scala, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said the state has long had a libertarian streak and its COVID mandates appear to have given that wing a new voice and energy. Freedom of speech is not always polite, he said.
“Our system of government is supposed to allow citizens to have a voice – even loud, even rude, even hoarse. We should err on the side of allowing this, ”Scala said.
However, he said, government agencies should prepare when a conflict is possible to ensure that the affairs of the people can continue.
Cinde Warmington, a Democrat on the Executive Council who voted to accept federal COVID funds, said she would not be put off by belligerent protesters.
“I was very upset that the affairs of the state government were being disrupted by these people,” Warmington said. “I stood ready to do the job of our government, and I will not be intimidated by these right-wing extremists.
“Sometimes,” she added, “it just takes courage to rule.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at [email protected]