A sticker affixed to the back window of a vehicle parked in downtown St. Paul caught a resident’s attention — it was the Three Percenter logo.
When Trevor Burns saw a uniformed St. Paul officer head to the pickup, he was even more concerned.
The Anti-Defamation League describes Three Percenters as “anti-government extremists who are part of the militia movement.” The Three Percenter website, meanwhile, says they are not a militia and they are “very pro-government, so long as the government abides by the Constitution.”
Burns wrote recently to Police Chief Todd Axtell, and talked to the chief. He said he now has no reason to believe the officer with the pick-up “is an actual member of a group that believes in overthrow of the government.”
Still, Burns said he’s still troubled that “somebody in our police force was comfortable enough to display” the sticker, but he believes Axtell is taking important steps.
CHIEF: ‘NO ROOM FOR HATE OR BIAS IN THIS POLICE DEPARTMENT’
In Axtell’s response to Burns, he wrote that because the sticker was on an officer’s private vehicle, the department wasn’t aware of it. Now, the department is “able to use it as an opportunity to educate all SPPD employees about the importance of considering the larger context of political issues, actions and organizations — especially those that are multifaceted,” Axtell wrote.
“I assure you, there is no room for hate or bias in this police department,” he continued.
Axtell said he’s assigned a member of his administrative team “to further explore this issue” and they’ve talked to the city attorney “to ensure that our policies are guided by — and align with — all applicable laws. We’re reviewing our policies to make sure there’s a crystal clear understanding about what is acceptable and what is not.”
Paul Kuntz, president of the St. Paul police union, said he’s confident the officer is not connected to a militia.
City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said that while the First Amendment protects free speech, “the city and department policies ensure all employees maintain the highest standards of professionalism and integrity free of any form of hate, extremism, or bigotry on and off the job.”
THREE PERCENTER STICKER GONE FROM VEHICLE
Burns took a photo of the back window of the truck, which was parked on the street, on Dec. 14 and posted about it on Twitter. He said he wanted to alert the community and elected officials.
“I can understand the personal rights of our SPPD officers to express their views as is a freedom afforded to all in this country,” Burns wrote to Axtell that night. “However, with the tensions rising in our country over the election and general political differences I wonder again how someone who is at the very least in passive support of the overthrow of the gov’t can serve our community.”
Burns, who doesn’t know the name of the officer, said the sticker was gone from the man’s vehicle when he saw it again on Dec. 16, as was a “Don’t Tread on Me” sticker on the window.
There is not an investigation into the officer, according to a police department spokesman.
Axtell wrote to Burns that the department holds officers “to the highest ethical standards when they’re wearing the uniform and, to the extent possible, when they’re not. On the flip side, we have a legal obligation to respect their Constitutional rights as private individuals. And while we have some authority over what is considered ‘unbecoming,’ it’s a balancing act — and one that we take seriously.”
WHAT DOES THE SYMBOL MEAN?
Some people sell items, such as gun accessories, with the Three Percenter logo to help with marketing, said Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism.
“There are occasionally examples of people who sort of mistakenly or ignorantly may use a Three Percent symbol thinking it’s just purely patriotic,” he said. “But then there are people who are actually sympathetic to some degree with the militia movement.”
The Anti-Defamation League website says the Three Percenter concept “is based on an inaccurate historical claim that only three percent of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against the British.”
People allegedly tied to Three Percenter philosophy have been in the news recently. A federal jury in St. Paul convicted a man this month in the 2017 bombing of a Bloomington mosque. He was said to be the leader of the “White Rabbit Militia — Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters, Three Percent.”
Another man who is federally charged with conspiracy to kidnap the governor of Michigan previously posted an image associated with the Three Percenters on his Facebook page, the Associated Press reported.
The Three Percenters describe themselves on their website as “a national organization made up of patriotic citizens who love their country, their freedoms, and their liberty. We are committed to standing against and exposing corruption and injustice.”
They say they are not racists nor are they anti-government.
“There have been news articles … that portray people claiming they are a three percenter and have committed horrific acts of violence,” the website says. “We have denounced each of these people. … (T)hese people were neither a part of our organization, nor hold the same views as we do.”
The Anti-Defamation League says Three Percenters have shifted to “directing their ire at other perceived foes, including leftists/antifa, Muslims and immigrants.”
They’ve been active recently “in reaction to … attempts to pass state level gun control measures, state-imposed restrictions and lockdowns to prevent spread of the coronavirus, and the protests that have taken place around the country over the May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
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