'White supremacist' graffiti causes stir in Dover


DOVER — A local man is taking responsibility for graffiti spray painted on Route 100 in Dover on Saturday.

Gary Sage, of Searsburg, said that while he didn't spray paint "BLDM" (Black Lives Don't Matter) and "White is Right" on Route 100, he did spray paint "MAGA" in the breakdown lane.

"What's wrong with making America great again?" he asked.

Sage said while he knows who painted the other graffiti on the road, he's taking responsibility for all of it.

"If you can sit there and paint BLM on a state road in Montpelier and the governor has no problem with that, I can do it down here," said Sage.

Sage also said while he is taking responsibility, he does not believe "Black Lives Don't Matter."

"I spent two years in Vietnam," he said. "We didn't give a [expletive deleted] what color the guy was sitting next to us. We fought for each other. I believe Black lives matter. I believe all lives matter and blue lives matter, too."

He accused the "liberal media" of blowing racism and police brutality out of proportion.

"What happened to George Floyd was not right," said Sage. "But white people have died and nobody wants to report on that because it would make [the media] look silly."

On Saturday, Green Mountain Conservatives for a Better Vermont held a "meet and greet" for conservative candidates at Layla's Riverside Lodge at 145 Route 100 in Dover. One of those who was invited to attend was John Klar, who is running against Gov. Phil Scott in the Republican primary. Prior to the meet and greet, the Dover Police Department received a report that people were spray painting on the road.

Shortly afterward, someone spray painted BLM over the graffiti.

Sage said neither Klar nor any of the other attendees at the meet and greet had anything to do with the graffiti.

On Sunday, Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, wrote on her webpage about what she called white supremacist graffiti along Route 100. She called on the Green Mountain Conservatives for a Better Vermont and the John Klar campaign to clean it up.

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"Broad daylight, busy weekend day in the middle of downtown Dover, you whip out cans of spray paint and start painting?" wrote Sibilia. "It's really something for people to feel that level of impunity. Racists and criminals are mistaken to feel that comfortable in our towns."

Sibilia noted that with the state projecting a $218 million revenue shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, "It is inconceivable that supposed `conservative' candidates would force Vermont taxpayers to clean up their supporters' racist and illegal graffiti."

The Windham County Delegation, which counts no Republicans in its ranks, issued a statement on Sunday addressing "the recent expressions of racist messaging and hate speech in our state highways throughout Windham County."

"The Windham County Delegation condemns any effort to spread targeted messages of hate, designed to induce fear in valued members of our community," wrote the delegation. "We offer support to all community members who have been affected by these actions and to the community at large during these turbulent times. And we want justice to prevail, for all of us."

Klar, who confirmed he had nothing to do with the graffiti, told the Reformer that screaming at people and calling them racists is "a failing political strategy."

"Sibilia has a lot of graffiti of her own to clean up," he wrote in an email. "Her hate tactics are getting tiresome, and they don't work in Vermont anymore. The Constitution still applies."

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Sibilia told the Reformer on Monday that she doesn't want people to feel they can just walk down the road and spray paint on it. "I don't care what your message is. It needs to stop. It's not an effective means of solving a problem."

However, she said that people requesting permission to paint public infrastructure, such as the Black Lives Matter on State Street in front of the Vermont State House, should not be put in the same category as those who are doing it without permission.

"This is not the same," she said. "If you see someone spray painting BLM on a roadway, you should also be calling law enforcement. Painting in the streets is not solving racism. All the lawn signs and myriad flags are not going to fix the issues. People of color are still experiencing systemic racism and racists are still operating in the shadows."

That's not the way Klar sees it.

"George Floyd was not killed in Vermont, which has the best record of treating Blacks out of all 50 states," he wrote in his email. "I still have never seen a Nazi flag in Vermont — but even if such people were discovered, Martin Luther King Jr. observed that we don't conquer hate with more hate — that's another lesson Sibilia and her angry cohort might try to absorb. Left-wing agitators like Sibilia seek to use the race card to stifle free speech."

He accused "leftists" of exploiting the issue "to avoid addressing their abysmal failure to fund pensions or help the Vermont economy."

"She is politicizing race, in a pathetic effort that is rapidly unraveling," wrote Klar.

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Klar insisted he was not defending racists, but he was defending the U.S. Constitution.

"The moment an elected official such as Sibilia openly favors one kind of speech as superior to another (as she does here, as Phil Scott has done, and as the city of Montpelier and our state schools are doing), she is violating her oath to uphold the Constitution, and she is an enemy of the First Amendment," wrote Klar.

Klar also called upon Sibilia to tell Vermonters "how she is going to help both Black and white Vermonters by rescuing the economy from the wreckage she and the progressives have wrought."

Sibilia told the Reformer her work in the Legislature speaks for itself.

She also wrote on her webpage that racial justice and the problems of systemic racism are not well served by these competing messages being painted around Windham County.

"We have to do more than paint the message," she wrote. "We have to do more than reform some policing practices. We must all take stock and accept responsibility for working together to implement new policies and live the message across society that Black lives matter."

Sibilia told the Reformer that she has concerns about recent guidance issued by the state after the Agency of Transportation washed off a bridge in Jamaica the chalked names of people who have been killed by police around the country.

After VTrans removed the names, the administration issued new guidance to leave messages on public property unless they are "profane, grotesque or advocated illegal activity or violence."

However, any message that negatively affects roadway safety should be removed, regardless of content, notes the guidance, and any mural or paint applied to a highway sign shall be removed regardless of content.

Sibilia wrote that she has been hearing from her constituents about the new guidance.

"I was assured that Vermonters who come across individuals defacing public property — no matter what the message - should call law enforcement because defacing public property is illegal," she wrote.

Dover Police Chief Randall Johnson said he is not planning to investigate the graffiti in Dover as it does not constitute a crime.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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