Around 8 p.m. on Saturday, roughly two dozen people marched toward a hotel in Marlborough wearing black shirts and masks. In the dark, they carried flares and a banner that read: “INVADERS: GO HOME.”
They stopped in front of the building's main entrance.
"Refugees, go home," they shouted in unison, as captured in a video taken by a bystander and posted on social media. "Whose streets? Our streets," they chanted.
This isn’t the first time the neo-Nazi organization NSC-131 has demonstrated at a hotel where state officials are renting rooms for homeless families. In late August, members of the same group gathered outside multiple hotels in Woburn carrying a similar banner.
NSC-131 is classified as a neo-Nazi group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was founded in Massachusetts and has staged rallies outside drag queen story hours and other events. Some of its members attended the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Experts who study violent extremism say the group has ties to a wider network of white supremacist organizations. Now, it appears to be targeting immigrants in the state's family shelter system.
For the past year, the state-funded family shelter system has expanded at a rapid rate, serving the highest number of homeless families in its history. Part of the growth is due to the region's high housing costs, but part of it reflects the arrival of new immigrant families, many of whom are fleeing violence in Haiti.
The expansion has forced the state to place more than 2,500 families in overflow hotel and motel units scattered across the commonwealth, including more than 800 families in units without shelter staff. These overflow hotel and motel placements appear to be the hate group's primary targets so far.
In response, anti-hate groups are mobilizing to support and welcome the new arrivals. But the experience has terrified some families staying at the hotels.
“I’m afraid,” said Marie, a mother who watched the group target the hotel where she and her children are living. “Talking to you about that night, I'm shaking.”
Marie, who asked WBUR not to use her last name because she’s worried the people in masks will return and target her, said she still won’t let her children play outside, even in the hotel parking lot.
“I'm always inside, and when I go out, I'm scared,” she said.
'We're going to see the group again'
Arthur Vigeant, the mayor of Marlborough, thinks this concern is well founded.
“I don't doubt for one minute, we're going to see the group again and maybe different groups,” he said.
Marlborough’s police force has increased patrols near the hotels and motels where unhoused families are staying, he said.
Greater police presence may not be enough to hinder hate groups, according to some experts. They would like to see tougher action from authorities to investigate, arrest and prosecute members of this group.
“They can be charged, and they should be charged,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, who runs Task Force Butler, a veteran’s group that documents extremists and pushes for authorities to take urgent steps to combat hate groups.
Goldsmith’s organization just completed a report on NSC-131.
“Their stated mission is to commit genocide and to purge New England from people of color, from Jewish people, from the LGBTQ community,” he said.
The group’s messaging on social media sites favored by extremist groups has increasingly focused on family shelters, emphasizing that many residents are Black and immigrants, Goldsmith said. Their actions outside the hotels and motels are “signaling to other white supremacists that this is the location that you should target,” he said.
Goldsmith suggested authorities could help hotels seek no trespassing orders, so police can arrest demonstrators on the properties where homeless families are staying. His group has delivered its report to the state attorney general's office. The report documents the hate group's activities and its members, laying the foundation for legal actions that he believes can be taken against NSC-131.
The Massachusetts attorney general’s office said it's concerned about hate incidents in general and encourages residents to report them — but could not confirm or deny whether an investigation is underway. The office declined to comment on the shelter incidents.
'Our humanity will win out'
A number of religious and cultural organizations have formed a coalition to counter the hate group’s actions.
The Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, along with the Anti-Defamation League of New England and Jewish Family Service of Metrowest have spearheaded the effort, called the Task Force to Protect Migrant Families. The group circulated a statement denouncing the anti-immigrant rallies.
“Within 24 hours over 80 groups had signed on,” said Cindy Rowe, who runs the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. “I know that our compassion and our humanity will win out.”
Rowe said she believes the majority of people in Massachusetts want to support and welcome the new arrivals, and view them as good for the commonwealth.
“It's wonderful for us in terms of a state that needs a broader workforce,” she said. “They want to contribute back to our community.”
Vigeant argues it’s not that simple. He said the state needs to have candid conversations about the best way to allocate limited resources. He’d like to see legislators repeal the unique 1983 law that obligates the state to provide shelter to eligible families. He thinks that would limit the number of immigrants seeking to resettle in Massachusetts.
“We’ve got to help the people we have here first,” he said. “There's always going to be opportunities to help others ... but we are having a housing crisis here as it is.”
After the Marlborough incident, Healey said in a statement that the neo-Nazis go “against everything we stand for in Massachusetts." Luckily, she added, "we’ve seen the very best of Massachusetts during this emergency. Communities opening their doors and stepping up to make sure families have a safe place to stay and their needs met.”
Dieufort Fleurissaint, a Haitian community leader and pastor in Milton, said Massachusetts has been welcoming overall. But, he said, there are things the commonwealth could do to improve the situation for for newly arrived immigrants.
Fleurissaint, who founded the non-profit the True Alliance Center, would like to see unhoused Haitian families placed in shelters closer to the Haitian community, where they’ll find support.
“They can definitely partner with some hotels in Greater Boston areas by placing those families near their communities,” Fleurissaint said.
He’d also like to see the state alert local law enforcement to shelter locations so that officers can be on the lookout for harassment. State officials have been criticized for failing to alerting local officials right away when unhoused families are placed in their communities.
Marie, the shelter resident, said she would like to leave the hotel where the hate group demonstrated. She said she won't feel safe until she finds a new place to stay.
This article was originally published on September 08, 2023.
This segment aired on September 8, 2023.