By STAN MADDUX
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — An Indiana farmers’ market temporarily shut down from rising tensions, after a vendor was accused of having ties to white supremacy, reopened last Saturday under tighter security.
Video cameras and more police officers were present at the municipally-operated farmers’ market in Bloomington at its same location, Showers Common. There were no reports of conflict but protesters did show up to voice concerns in a newly designated area for personal expression away from vendors.
According to the mayor’s office, the security measures will remain in place indefinitely.
The changes included closing two nearby streets during market hours “to create a larger comfort zone” for the crowd and the addition of “market ambassadors” welcoming back vendors and promoting a more inclusive spirit, according to the mayor’s office.
Signs outlining market rules and directing people to designated areas for expressing themselves and distributing flyers were also installed. “Our community is reclaiming our public space and I urge coming together to live out our community values of inclusion and caring,” said Mayor John Hamilton.
Hamilton said other efforts to address a longstanding culture of white supremacy still prevalent in the area to some degree are also in the planning stages. He cited rising tensions for the two-week suspension of the Saturday market, to work on solutions aimed at preventing conflict and restoring a sense of calm.
He said tensions at the market could still prevail especially given the political climate nationwide, but it was critical to stand up for the 47-year-old market and a majority of the hearts in Bloomington.
“Disagreements, differences, even conflict may arise. That can be disturbing, upsetting, and scary. But our mutual caring and respect in Bloomington, our commitment to justice and inclusion can and must carry the day. It is essential,” Hamilton said.
The turmoil at the market started when vendors Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey, owners of Schooner Creek Farm, were linked to alleged white supremacy in The Daily Beast, an online publication with a reputation for left-leaning content.
Dye was accused in the article of posting in online chatrooms connected to the white supremacy group “Identity Evropa.” A protester who allegedly refused to move from her booth was arrested for criminal trespassing just prior to the market being suspended.
Dye and Mackey were reportedly back for the market’s reopening. Several attempts to reach Dye for comment were not successful, but she denied any ties to white supremacy during an interview with FOX 59 out of Indianapolis prior to the reopening.
“As an Identitarian and an American, I am disgusted at the level of lies, misinformation, falsehoods, and intimidation by those who do not know me or my family,” she said during the videotaped interview available on the FOX 59 website.
(The Oxford Dictionary definition of Identitarian is “a supporter or advocate of the political interests of a particular racial, ethnic, or national group, typically one composed of Europeans or white people.”)
She also denied ever discussing her political views at the market. “I’m just there to sell produce as I have been for nine years,” said Dye, who also disclosed in the FOX 59 interview being contacted by supporters over the controversy.
During a Facebook Live question-and-answer session hosted by the mayor and city department heads, one viewer asked if the solution could be not allowing the vendor to return. Hamilton said governments under the First Amendment can regulate only conduct, not beliefs, and that there’s been no evidence of any politically related viewpoints or outbursts from any of the vendors during the market.
If the market were privatized, though, he said the operators would have the authority to decide which vendors to invite. Privatizing the market was given some thought, but under the city’s leadership it has grown into more of a destination, officials said.
“That’s why when people come to market they see a variety of entertainment. There’s festivals on the plaza. Outside organizations can work with our staff to reserve the plaza and then have their event,” said Paula McDevitt, administrator of the city Department of Parks and Recreation.