MILLERSBURG -- While offensive to some, local law enforcement officials say their best advice to residents is to simply ignore and pitch what appears to be white supremacist propaganda that is making its way around Holmes County.
In mid-April, the Millersburg Police Department and Holmes County Sheriff's Office received several calls from residents concerned about the fliers, packaged into zip-close baggies with candy, discovered in local lawns.
The printed materials call on readers to embrace white pride and the white culture. Critical of illegal immigrants and all other races, the fliers provide phone numbers and the web address for the East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire. One bears the phrase, "God bless the Ku Klux Klan."
The home page of the website displays a nighttime scene of several hooded individuals surrounding a burning cross. It has links for joining the group, a list of upcoming events, a photo gallery, contact information and several downloadable fliers, including the two seen in Holmes County.
Holmes County resident John Estill said he became aware of the circulating fliers through Facebook. He considers the circulated materials and website "all kind of disgusting."
Estill, a Holmes County native and longtime member of the community, is married to Graciela, who is from Mexico and now a naturalized American citizen.
Together they have three children, two of whom are biological and, like their mother, proud of both their American and Mexican heritage. A third is adopted from Vietnam, the biological son of an African-American father and Vietnamese mother, who, likewise, is "very proud to be an American," said Estill, noting, "We think we're a little bit more diverse than most of Holmes County, but for the most part, the people of Holmes County have been very accepting of my family, and I'm very happy of that."
The majority of calls to local law enforcement came from residents concerned about the materials found in their yard, evidently tossed there from a passing vehicle, said Millersburg Police Chief S. Thomas Vaughn, who said his officers have recovered about 20 such packages from tree lawns and public roads throughout the village.
The areas in which the fliers have been distributed "seem to be random," said Vaughn, noting they've been most often found along state routes.
"We just tell them to throw it away and ignore the content," said Vaughn, who notes the action could be considered littering, but, otherwise, legal -- an expression of free speech.
Similar advice has been handed out by the Sheriff's Office, according to Chief Deputy Richard Haun, who joins with Vaughn in advising property owners to throw away any offensive materials and call only if there is some type of confrontation or if they can provide identifying information, especially a license plate number, for the suspects.
And, while Estill acknowledges "it does fall under free speech," and falls short of crossing the line to illegal, he and Graciella are organizing a response.
He cites Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who in the 1927 Whitney v. California opinion, wrote, "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."
To that end, he said, they are crafting a written statement "to be circulated among the good people of Holmes County ... to say this is disgusting and deplorable and we don't tolerate this type of behavior." They hope to get the support of local civic organizations, church groups, governments and law enforcement "to show the unity of the community in opposition to this."
The materials, he said, are just as likely to have come from within Holmes County as from outside.
"I know there is an element within Holmes County that is not open to people unlike themselves, and what I would have guessed is someone came across this website and think they can (use the prepared fliers to) show their colors," he said.
And, while an outside influence is just as possible, Estill said, "I'm old enough to remember the whole civil rights movement and people blaming things on outside agitators. We have plenty of that within."
Nevertheless, he said, "We do want to make the statement (in opposition). I think people will feel the way they feel. Free speech is free speech. But this is just not OK."
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.