AMANA — Iowa County officials said this week they were shocked to learn that Amana is shown on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s nationwide map of hate groups, a designation that apparently came about after neo-Nazis made plans to host a “book club” in 2016.
“I really don’t believe Amana ... has any knowledge of that happening,” said Iowa County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Kevin Heitschusen about the supposed meetup. “I think they were blindsided by that. They have no desire to support anything like that, that’s my belief.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center — which tracks hate groups — lists Amana as one of several locations in the nation for The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi hate group. The Daily Stormer gained special notoriety last week for being one of the organizers of the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly.
While Amana is shown as a location for the neo-Nazi organization, that appears to be due to members deciding to meet there for a so-called book club.
Ryan Lenz, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that designation does not mean Amana is home to any actual neo-Nazis.
“Just because they’re meeting in Amana does not mean every Nazi or anti-Semite or Klansman coming to these meetings is from Amana,” he said. “We know people drive many, many miles — hundreds of miles — to sit with like-minded people.”
While hate group activity increasingly has moved to cyberspace, Lenz said The Daily Stormer took the opposite approach in 2016 by calling for members and would-be members to attend “book clubs” and meet one another.
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“They decided to take these ideas offline for recruitment and for propagation of the idea,” Lenz said.
Once the center’s researchers uncovered the cities where these meet ups were to take place, the cities were added to the map when it was updated this year. Lenz said it was impossible to know how many times the meetups took place.
A cached page of The Daily Stormer’s former website — which was taken down by the Go Daddy hosting service in the wake of the deadly rally — shows members planning the meeting about one year ago.
“I’m going to be busy on weekends for a while, but let’s do an East Iowa book club too,” wrote one member on Aug. 31, 2016. “Reply if you’d be down. CR, IC, Davenport, Waterloo, etc ... The Amana Colonies might be a sweet place to meet. There is an awesome free shooting range on Amana road plus it is a historic German community.”
Another member wrote on Sept. 23 that they were “down for the Amana Colonies. ... I would really like for this to happen, they have great food over there, plenty of outside space to chat.”
The members talk about meeting for lunch on Sept. 25 and going to a shooting range, as well.
Iowa County Sheriff Rob Rotter said the meeting was “complete news to me” and said he learned about it just this week. Rotter said the county has not had any issues with hate groups or activity. He also believes the center labeling Amana as a location for neo-Nazi activity is “misleading.”
“If anyone out there has the idea that it’s a German community, they’re Nazi sympathizers, that’s insane,” Rotter said. “I grew up there. I can tell you, they’re proud Americans and nothing more.”
Lenz said the map is meant to demonstrate how widespread hate activity is across the country.
“The point is, this is not a problem that’s isolated to big cities or coastal areas or the border,” he said.
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Richard Pratt of The Gazette contributed to this report.