BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A white man who prosecutors say distributed Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers to two members of the city's small minority community is facing criminal charges.
The fliers didn't include a call to violence, but distributing them only to a black woman and a Hispanic woman shows an intent to threaten and therefore doesn't fall under free-speech protections, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan said Thursday.
William Schenk was arrested Thursday on disorderly conduct charges, prosecutors said. Because his conduct was motivated by race, the penalty could be enhanced to more than four years in prison if he is convicted, they said.
Schenk, 21, is expected to be in court Friday. It was unknown if he had a lawyer, and no phone number for him could be located in Burlington or in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he used to live.
KKK fliers were discovered late last month in Burlington, whose population is almost 90 percent white. People protesting racism later held rallies.
The two women told police they received fliers at their homes on the same street in late October, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Police said they also were notified by workers at a local FedEx business center that a KKK flier had been left there in a copy machine. A video obtained from the center depicted a man and was released to local media outlets last weekend, and police said a Plattsburg, New York, woman came forward and said she was sure the man was Schenk because she used to date him and he is a member of the KKK, a secretive society organized in the South after the Civil War to assert white supremacy, often using violence.
The affidavit states Schenk told police the KKK has no members in Vermont or New Hampshire so he traveled to Vermont to try to recruit some.
"It was just kind of like a recruitment, you know," the affidavit quotes Schenk as saying. "It's nothing to deal with hate."
Police said that although Schenk told them he distributed 40 to 50 fliers they could find no other recipients during a canvass of the neighborhood.
The writing on the fliers included "The clock is ticking, wake up White America" and "Blacks are statistically 50 times more likely to attack whites than vice versa," according to depictions in the arrest warrant affidavit.
A roommate in Burlington told police that Schenk, who still has a North Carolina driver's license, had moved in roughly two months ago.
Some of Burlington's 42,000 residents said they were pleased Schenk had been arrested but added they have a long way to go to end bias in the state.
"I'm really happy we were able to secure this win against racism in Vermont," community leader Ebony Nyoni said in a statement issued by Rights & Democracy, an organizer of anti-racism efforts.
This story has been corrected to show the man's surname is Schenk, not Shank.