Hate Speech Invades Town Meetings


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For the second time this year, people spewing hate entered a town government meeting during public comment. The first instance occurred during a Community Resources Committee (CRC) meeting on January 30. The second instance was at the Town Council meeting on March 18. In the CRC meeting, the hateful speech was removed from the recording by the town’s IT department. The recording of the council meeting still contains the objectionable speech, which visibly upset both councilors and residents.

A commenter named Chad Bastewell, supposedly a resident of District 3, began his comment by denouncing racial discrimination, but then veered into complaining about those “benefiting from their skin color,” excluding white people. After citing the 1866 Civil Rights Act, he accused the councilors of being “hoodwinked by racist doctrine, peddled by mentally ill [slurs for gay people and Jews].” After more hateful accusations, he concluded, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are in violation. I suggest you get with your municipal attorney immediately and correct and abort this DEI policy that you are implementing.”

A few callers later, Albert [no last name given], also allegedly from District 3, continued the screed, saying, “Diversity means fewer white people. Inclusion means the exclusion of white people. And equity means stealing from white people.” He then continued his attack on “anti-white hate,” making claims about supposed attacks on white women by African Americans and ultimately blaming Jews for controlling the media and hating non-Jews,  using an expletive.

These outbursts were not curtailed by Council President Lynn Griesemer. She apologized to the audience, but did not stop the diatribes. Several speakers who followed were clearly disconcerted. Amilcar Shabazz said, “I have to say I’m rather scared to give my own address with the kind of folks that are coming out of the woodwork. It really is threatening. It makes me cry and grieve for our town. Everybody, of course, is entitled to their opinions. But I really want to look at policies to know how much we have to deal with. But it’s also good to know what’s out there and what it is we’re striving to overcome.” 

Jeff Kalman stated, “I am seriously concerned about the caller who spewed anti-Semitic rhetoric — and I’m shocked that the Town Council has not said that they will not tolerate that. I expect that the moderator would cut off someone who is spewing any hate speech whatsoever. It makes me feel that you are complicit and that you condone this type of speech, which I know or hope is not true. I’m feeling very unsafe with a caller like that. So, if that person steps up again, I think it’s important that you remind him, and everyone else who speaks, that that will not be tolerated.”

According to Councilors Freke Ette and Pat DeAngelis, three callers at the recent CRC meeting spoke for about 15 minutes. DeAngelis said they used the “N” word, as well as “some really grotesque anti-Semitic, pornographic comments. That was a horrible experience. And when I asked you, Lynn (Griesemer), you said ‘we don’t have to listen to pornography’ but I thought you also said we didn’t have to listen to hate speech.” DeAngelis asked why the comments at this meeting weren’t stopped and wanted to know the guidelines.

Griesemer defended her inaction, saying she would share with the rest of the councilors “a piece provided by our attorney over this very issue.” “The bottom line,” she continued, “is there is no perfect solution. It is horrendous. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out when we can stop it and when we can’t — and when we stop it, are we opening ourselves to a freedom-of-speech lawsuit? I would have loved to shut people down tonight, and yet that’s not the advice I’ve received from the attorney.”

She referred to the recent case in Southborough, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decided unanimously that a resident’s free speech was violated when the select board chair ended the public comment period and threatened to remove a member of the public who had compared him to Hitler. In a 29-page decision, the SJC found that the town’s civility code was an unconstitutional restriction of complainants’ speech. The court called the remark “rude and insulting, [but it is] still speech protected by [Article 19 of the Massachusetts Constitution].”

Regarding the Southborough decision, the Massachusetts Municipal Association has said that “some see the ruling as a setback for efforts to promote decorum in government settings at a time when public discourse has grown increasingly coarse and personal. They say the ruling could result in fewer opportunities for public speech, as public boards, which are not required by law to have public comment sessions, could choose to eliminate them altogether. Southborough’s attorney added that the ruling could have a cooling effect on volunteers stepping up to serve on local boards.”

Neither the council nor the residents of Amherst are happy that hate speech can enter public meetings. It remains to be seen if any limits can legally be placed on what people say in a public comment period.

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8 thoughts on “Hate Speech Invades Town Meetings

  1. The name ‘Chad Bastewell’ seemed to be fake and so I looked for other instances where this so-named person showed up. I found meeting minutes from Essex Junction, VT, March 2024: (https://www.essexjunction.org/fileadmin/files/General/2024/03/2024-03-13_City_Council_Minutes_-_DRAFT.pdf?9a965187cd780d8f7056898b9ba29324be1df1fb) This is a pdf. It describes anti semitic and other derogatory remarks having been made. In attendance were: Chad Bastewell, and a person named ‘Albert.’
    I think we need to realize that this sort of trolling behavior is going to infect our public meetings.
    They don’t have to be allowed to comment, and someone should be at the ready to shut them down.
    We should scrutinize whether those who make these kinds of comments are truly residents or non-resident people who aim to disrupt a town’s policies and meetings.

  2. The TC should ask the attorney mentioned for a more nuanced interpretation of the ruling cited. That ruling focused on attacks against individuals and it would be worthwhile to challenge various interpretations. A legal second opinion might be warranted. One commenter during that meeting was attorney John Bonifaz and I’d be curious of his interpretation. Are callers who are clearly non-residents allowed to terrorize and intimidate residents? They both used the term “city” and thus revealed they don’t live here. Moreover, the Council President had the option to pause immediately and repudiate the statements and acknowledge the pain they caused. Simply moving ahead compounded the pain and was extremely insensitive.

  3. It was frightening to hear the hatred that came from “Chad Bastewell” and equally sad to hear the tepid “thank you” from the Chair. I understand that the constraint was based on an understanding of legal advice that interpreted and extrapolated from the Southborough case. It seems that the words “right of free speech” can have a paralyzing effect. But Southborough was one case based on a specific set of facts. It is important to understand context and not reflexively apply that case or any other.

    There may have been another principle at play that contributed to an unwillingness to immediately respond. As the Chair recites at the beginning of each public comment period, Councilors will not respond to any comment. But life is complex and for that reason, rules and laws, even the Constitution and the pronouncements of our Town Council, can have exceptions. The right to free expression, like all constitutional rights, is not absolute. Words matter. Weren’t the hateful comments the moral equivalent of “crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater?” Cannot both instances elicit a fear of personal safety and potential for physical harm? And would it have created a fundamental, irreparable breach of the local rule if instead of a polite thank you there had been a clear, emphatic and, most importantly, immediate repudiation of his abhorrent statements?

    Sadly, it appears that instances of hate speech will continue, perhaps made worse during the run-up to the national election. We must be able to distinguish between the need to tolerate uncivil, indecorous behavior and the ability to repudiate a diatribe of hatred straight out of the white supremacist’s handbook that poses a direct threat to the safety and well-being of Amherst residents. It is a difficult task, but I am confident that the correct path could be found.

  4. One simple change to Town Council’s Zoom meeting format would discourage anonymous hate speech, namely showing the screen image of each commenter and requiring them to state their name and address before making their public comment. This one change would hold residents accountable for their words and would not allow those spewing hatred to hide in the shadows. Beyond the issue of preventing anonymous hate speech, this change would also allow greater consensus building among those sharing similar views. No more disembodied voices!

  5. As an idea, how about allowing public comment online from residents, with name and address, in advance of the Town Council meetings based on the agenda items instead of in person at Council meetings? Councilors would have the advantage of pondering the implication of cogent arguments in advance and we would all save a couple of hours of Town staff time and Councilor time in open meeting. Perhaps if the commenters have to type in their thoughts they will be helpfully concise?

  6. We need to find an alternative to Zoom .
    Anonymity is not permissible . I work for a large corporation in finance . When we call in to a meeting ,we are required to give our name and other particulars by a moderator , recorded before we can join.
    Peggy M- Nilsen is spot on .

  7. The name Chad Bastewell appears in the minutes of the February 28, 2024 meeting of the Citizen’s Council of Helena, Montana, but if he provided comments, they are not recorded. Is it the same person showing up in different towns or could it be a group of people who all use the same alias? Are they targeting “liberal” towns? In any event, future attempts to inject hate speech into public discourse must be curtailed.

  8. Bastewell and colleagues just hijacked the zoom of the Lawrence, Kansas City Commission meeting so it appears they are targeting liberal towns. Lawrence, the home of the university, is a blue dot in a sea of red. Their rant starts at about 40 minutes. Warning – hate speech and profanity


    UPDATE with additional links:

    It appears the same folks who hijacked your Community Resource Meeting and Town council just hijacked the Lawrence, Kansas City Commission meeting with the same language and visuals. This is the link to the city commission meeting. Chad Bastewell begins about 39 minutes and then they interrupt the next speaker. If it’s not live, the city may have taken it down.


    So I began doing a little searching about ‘Chad Bastewell’

    It appears there are five other liberal towns besides Amherst and Lawrence that have been targeted by these guys to date and it looks like a systematic approach by an organized hate group. Lawrence is known for being a fit of blue in a sea of red (university town). The other towns are:

    Bend – https://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/city-of-bend-removes-commission-meeting-recording-after-racist-outburst/article_6079027a-f90b-11ee-9edd-cb199e2077e5.html

    Snoqualmie (in the minutes under public comment) https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/snoqualmwa-pubu/MEET-Minutes-2d9dc75492864b56b45fe7581bae738f.pdf

    Essex junction, Vermont – under public to be heard https://www.essexjunction.org/fileadmin/files/General/2024/03/2024-03-13_City_Council_Minutes_-_FINAL.pdf?1413deadeddf039cdc4010b15d632ec35a23222a

    Helena – Bastewell was present for zoom comments, but the zoom didn’t work.

    Montclair: Mayor said same thing happened in Claremont. City then suspended zoom. https://www.cityofmontclair.org/policy-statement-discontinuation-remote-oral-public-comments/

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