Updated at 12:59 p.m.
New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella on Tuesday charged the Nationalist Socialist Club and two of its leaders with violating the state’s Civil Rights Act and conspiring to violate the New Hampshire Civil Rights Act. The group is also known by the acronym NSC-131, with 131 being the alphanumeric code for "ACA," Anti-Communist Action and Anti-Capitalist Action.
Formella joined with Portsmouth Police Chief Mark Newport to announce the initiation of what they described as an “enforcement action.”
Named in the complaint is Christopher Hood, whose last known address was Pepperell, Massachusetts, and Leo Anthony Cullinan of Manchester, New Hampshire. Hood founded NSC-131 New England and is regional organizer of the virulently racist "White Lives Matter" national movement. Cullinan is the regional leader for New Hampshire and recruiter for NSC-131 New England.
The civil rights complaints against them and the organization stem from an incident on July 30, 2022, where Hood and other members of NSC-131 are alleged to have hung a "Keep New England white" banner from an overpass overlooking U.S. Route 1 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, without permission. Under state law, certain unlawful acts motivated by race are considered violations of the Civil Rights Act.
"So hanging that banner without permission was a trespass,” said Formella. “What was written on the banner makes it pretty clear that that trespass was motivated by race. And so that was a violation of our Civil Rights Act.”
The civil complaint alleges that at least 10 members of the group from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and other New England states took part in the Civil Rights Act violation, and therefore the Nationalist Socialist Club “as an unincorporated association” can be liable for violating the Civil Rights Act. An unincorporated association, under the law, essentially means that the group operated as a team or, in the case of NSC-131, as a criminal gang, according to the New Hampshire Civil Rights DIvision of the Attorney General's Office. U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins in past comments about the group has advanced a similar legal argument.
NSC-131 regularly plasters racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic posters on public and private buildings and hangs banners from overpasses throughout New England, but New Hampshire is believed to be the first to take state-level legal action against the group.
“I am not aware of any other state that has taken an action like this,” said Peggy Shukur, interim executive director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England.
Shukur applauded the charges brought by New Hampshire’s top legal authority against homegrown fascists.
“We’re really pleased that the attorney general found a way to say to the community, ‘I am holding them accountable. I am aware of the harm that this group is causing to many marginalized communities. And I'm going to try to hold them accountable through the laws of our state,’” she said.
NSC-131 sees itself as organized right-wing enforcers on the ground. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL likens the group to SA street thugs who targeted Jews, trade unionists, leftists and gay people in the years leading up to Adolf Hitler’s rise in 1933. The group effectively uses First Amendment protections to carry out actions on the street.
In January last year, the group rallied outside Brigham Hospital and Harvard Medical School holding a banner falsely accusing the institution and two doctors who worked there of being anti-white because of their efforts to establish equity in medical treatment and outcomes. In March they protested on the sidelines at the St. Patrick's Day Parade in South Boston, holding a banner reading "Keep Boston Irish" and wearing skeleton masks and look-alike khaki pants and shirts.
The charges against Hood and fellow neo-Nazis raises questions about First Amendment protections. But Formella, a conservative Republican who is viewed as a free speech advocate, said NSC-131’s actions are not constitutionally protected.
“What the First Amendment doesn't protect is the ability to engage in unlawful acts,” he said.
New Hampshire officials pointed out that each violation of the state’s Civil Rights Act could result in a maximum civil penalty of $5,000 and could empower the court to “restrain the defendant from committing future violations of the Civil Rights Act and other hate-motivated conduct for three years.” If that were to happen, it could effectively curtail the organization’s banner drops and other activities in New Hampshire, which the NSC-131 records and uses for maximum effect on social media to recruit and draw attention to their fascist beliefs.
Formella said the next step is to prove the complaints and allegations against the group and its leaders at an upcoming final hearing. New Hampshire’s attorney general said his office and the state police are also investigating other incidents involving the neo-Nazi organization.
Formella encouraged anyone who believes their civil rights have been violated by NSC-131 in New Hampshire to file a complaint or call 603-271-3650.
“People should understand there may be instances where there's harassment or some other act that is certainly distasteful or abhorrent or repulsive. It may not be something we can bring an action for because it may not rise to the level of a Civil Rights Act violation," he said. "But we encourage everyone who either sees this activity or feels they've been a victim of it, to report it to their local police department and report it to our civil rights unit.”
Correction: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Peggy Shukur's last name.