During the market season, people rise at the crack of dawn, grab their reusable bags and head downtown to stock up on bright red tomatoes, rainbow-colored carrots and crisp green beans.
The Bloomington Farmers’ Market has been a touchstone of the community for years. But over the past week it’s become the center of a fierce debate about white supremacy and freedom of speech.
On June 4, IU Ph.D. student Abby Ang submitted a letter with more than 200 co-signers demanding the removal of a vendor named Schooner Creek Farm from the Bloomington Farmers’ Market.
The letter claimed owners of the farm, Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey, are members of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Identity Evropa as a hate group. The group posted fliers in 2017 on the office doors of faculty members of color in IU’s Maurer School of Law and Ballantine Hall.
Ang presented messages found in white supremacist chat rooms she and others claimed were posted by Dye under the name Volkmom.
She also linked to FBI testimony from Nolan Brewer, who will serve 3 years in federal prison after vandalizing a Carmel, Indiana, synagogue. Brewer identified Volkmom as a woman named Sarah and said he had met her and her husband Douglas through Identity Evropa.
That couple was the same couple running Schooner Creek Farm, Ang said. She and the other co-signers demanded the farmers’ market remove them as a vendor or face official complaints to the Indiana State Health Department and United States Department of Agriculture.
The Bloomington Farmers’ Market responded. It told Ang it would not remove Schooner Creek Farm.
“To our knowledge, this vendor has not shared these views at Market and has treated customers with respect,” said Marcia Veldman, program/facility coordinator for Bloomington’s Parks and Recreation Department, in an email response to Ang. “The City is constitutionally prohibited from discriminating against someone because of their belief system, no matter how abhorrent those views may be. The City may only intercede if an individual's actions violate the safety and human rights of others.”
The first comment is innocuous enough.
“Thanks @Deleted User,” Volkmom posted Sept. 9, 2017. It’s the start of a year and a half of comments on the popular messaging app Discord.
Unicorn Riot, a reporting collective focused on covering social and environmental issues, released Volkmom’s messages in March 2019 as part of a 770,000-post leak from Identity Evropa servers on Discord.
The leak revealed Identity Evropa helped plan the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to a post on Unicorn Riot.
Volkmom posted frequently on the group’s main server, “Nice Respectable People Group” and another titled “MacGuyver - Skills & Academics.”
“Volk” is a German word for people. It and the adjective “voelkisch,” which means "people’s", were used by the Nazis to distinguish Germans from those they labeled inferior, according to the BBC.
In some of her comments, Volkmom wrote about farming and posted pictures of her vegetables under the hashtag “gardening.”
Some of her comments were a mixture of the mundane and the extreme. She wrote about homeschooling her kids and giving people recommendations for “non-PC books.”
“Especially this year as we are starting History. I am going to reference March of the Titans by Arthur Kemp ( history of the White race) alongside the more mainstream 'Story of the World,'” she posted Aug. 17, 2018.
She complained about her mother-in-law.
“anyone have any examples of blatant anti-white rhetoric , headlines, quotes etc off the top of your head for my boomer MIL?” she wrote Feb. 2. “She is telling me she hasn't seen anything like that. Making progress with my talking points though.”
Others were simply racist.
“They [Native Americans] can't use the term ‘genocide,’” Volkmom posted Jan. 20. ”Technically we have created conditions for them to prosper, although they do not today for other reasons.”
“The word ‘indigenous’ only means poc to leftists,” she posted Feb. 14. “They conveniently forget about when it comes to Europeans.”
“Any Whites who have spent time living in a neighborhood or attending a school with a non-white majority know the strife that Whites endure,” she wrote Jan. 24.
Volkmom criticized Jean Liedloff’s book “The Continuum Constant” in a longer post Aug. 21, 2018. In the book, Liedloff observes child rearing techniques of indigenous South Americans. Volkmom called the book “anti-White” and the South Americans “primitive.”
In her posts, Volkmom indicated she wasn’t always part of the far-right. On Jan. 22, she called herself a “former lefty.”
“It has been four years since I began to wake up,” she wrote. “I have unfortunately lost about 99% of former friends and acquaintances. This was not caused by me speaking explicitly either. It was word of mouth and hushed whispers. Pretty sick.”
Throughout all of it, Volkmom expressed her love for Identity Evropa, complimenting the group on its treatment of women. She tagged the group’s leader, Patrick Casey, in a post on Nov. 28, 2018.
“Three cheers for @Reinhard Wolff,” she wrote, using Casey’s username. “Congratulations on one year anniversary, and here's to many more! I am proud to be in IE. Long live Identity Evropa!!!”
This is the woman many people believe to be Sarah Dye, the co-owner of Schooner Creek Farm in Brown County, Indiana.
Thomas Westgard is a carpenter from the Bloomington area who sells maple syrup and wood crafts at the farmers’ market in Nashville, Indiana. He said in the past he bought things from Dye and Mackey’s booth and exchanged hellos.
“We were never close, I didn’t know them well or vice versa, but I’ve certainly seen them around often enough,” Westgard said.
He said he had heard Dye and Mackey were white supremacists through his social justice activist contacts for a long time before he could definitely prove it. He said he alerted the Nashville Farmers’ Market board April 30 about the allegations.
Westgard said he asked Dye if she was a white supremacist. She denied it.
People told him about racist comments Dye and Mackey allegedly made, but he felt he didn’t have enough evidence to do something.
“Without a recording or some sort of documentation, there’s just too much room for some sort of misunderstanding at that point,” he said.
That changed during the last week of May, when an FBI interview with Nolan Brewer was released to the public. In July 2018, Brewer and his wife, Kiyomi, painted swastikas and iron crosses on a Carmel, Indiana synagogue and originally planned to detonate homemade explosives before becoming scared, according to BuzzFeed.
In the interview, Brewer detailed his meetings with other members of Identity Evropa. He said he and his wife had dinner with a couple named Sarah and Douglas. They met through Discord. Sarah posted under the name Volkmom, he said.
When the testimony was released, anti-fascist organizations acted fast. They tracked down Volkmom through the Discord leaks and cross-reference photos she had posted on the forums with photos on a Steemit blog under Dye’s name. Steemit allows users to blog for cryptocurrency called Steem.
The blog identified Dye as the co-owner of Schooner Creek Farm. The posts have since been deleted.
There were other photos besides the ones on the Dye’s blog.
On Feb. 14, a user named Piet Dietzel posted pictures of a steel structure being constructed in front of a chicken coop in a “Nice Respectable People Group” channel called “activism photos.”
The channel was used by Identity Evropa members to post pictures of different places where they had left stickers and posters promoting the group. Piet Dietzel posted pictures of Identity Evropa signs and symbols he or she had left around the Indianapolis area, including at the IU-Purdue University Indianapolis campus and the Veterans Memorial Plaza.
When Piet Dietzel posted the pictures of the steel structure, he or she asked someone to superimpose a dragon’s eye, the Identity Evropa symbol, on a picture. A user named Brunswick asked what Piet Dietzel was doing. Volkmom responded.
“Constructing a high tunnel/ greenhouse for growing organic vegetables,” she replied.
In one of the pictures Piet Dietzel posted, two people stand side-by-side with their faces not in the photos. They are standing next to steel beams, some of which are small enough to be bundled together with plastic.
Two of the bundles are labeled. When the picture is flipped, the labels become clear: “Douglas Mackey D1” and “Douglas Mackey End Walls D1.”
Westgard said once he had Brewer’s testimony, he felt he could speak out.
In a June 1 Facebook post addressed to the Nashville Farmers’ Market Board, Westgard said Dye lied about being a white supremacist and demanded she be expelled from the market.
“None of us holds any special right to be a part of a farmers' market, nor is any of us obligated to retain in a farmers' market persons who hold views we dislike," Westgard wrote. "Any suggestion that the Board cannot expel a vendor due to a difference of opinion is an inaccurate understanding of the First Amendment."
A former vendor contacted the Nashville Farmers’ Market board on May 25 about Schooner Creek Farm and shared more information in the following days, wrote new board president Kara Hammes in an email to the Indiana Daily Student.
Board members spent the week reviewing the information before removing Dye as president on June 1, the same day as Westgard’s Facebook post. The board is still reviewing its options under its 2019 vendor contract and cannot comment on any changes or decisions at this time.
Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey did not respond to email, phone and in-person requests for comment.
The Saturday after Abby Ang’s letter was sent, Mackey set up a lush display of leafy greens and burgundy beets at the Bloomington Farmers’ Market.
Across the market, Abby Ang and other protestors handed out fliers asking patrons to avoid the Schooner Creek Farm booth. One table had pins which read “Don’t Buy Veggies From Nazis.”
Ang said she found out about Schooner Creek Farm from a friend on Facebook. She started working at informational tables at the market for two organizations, the Monroe County Indiana Chapter of the National Organization for Women and Democracy for Monroe County.
“I wanted to get a letter out as soon as possible in order to help the community feel empowered,” Ang said.
Ang shared her friend’s message in a Facebook post May 31, where it got over 100 comments. Bloomington community members shared their dismay and their experiences with Schooner Creek Farm.
A woman named Dana Mackey, who claimed to be Douglas Mackey’s sister, commented on the post. “Me, my sister and my own mother have tried with them,” she wrote. “Good luck if you can change their mind when my own mother can not. Sarah is garbage and deserves to be run out of every business and town she happens to slither into. She is not worth one ounce of your effort.”
Dana Mackey did not respond to requests for comment.
Even if Ang files complaints with the health department and the USDA, it’s unlikely Schooner Creek Farm would be removed from the Bloomington Farmers’ Market.
Joseph Tomain is a lecturer for the IU Maurer School of Law who specializes in free speech rights. He said removing the farm from the farmers’ market, which is run by the City of Bloomington, would be in violation of Dye and Mackey’s First Amendment rights.
“So if all you have here is a vendor, who is participating in the farmers market like everybody else, and it just happens to be that they're racists, they have the right to participate in the market,” Tomain said.
Tomain said one way the government can prohibit someone’s free speech is if it passes the Brandenburg incitement test.
For the government to restrict the speech of someone advocating a crime or use of force, it must prove the speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and is “likely to incite or produce such action,” according to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute.
“People are people, some are good, some are bad,” Tomain said. “And in our democracy, we tolerate living with diverse viewpoints.”
While the First Amendment protects hate speech, it also protects Americans' rights to protest against that speech, Tomain said. He said many of the free speech protections that exist today came from cases involving civil rights activists.
“But when we think about the bigger picture, the last thing I think that we want to do is start to curtail First Amendment rights based on the viewpoint of speech because that could turn around and be used against individuals who are seeking to express messages of justice and equality,” Tomain said.
Ang wrote in an email she plans to submit her complaints following a Farmers' Market Advisory Council meeting on June 17, which is open to the public.
A public Bloomington United meeting about the incident is planned for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Hooker Conference Room in City Hall.
Ang said she and others will continue to protest Schooner Creek Farm’s presence at the market until Dye and Mackey leave for good, even if her official complaints are rejected.
“The way I see it, if the city government can’t or won’t do anything to actually ban them, then citizens can still boycott the vendor itself and its booth,” she wrote in a text message. “They can still ask the city to look at their policies for vendors. They can still run them out of the farmers’ market simply by making no money.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Nolan Brewer as Nathan Brewer. The IDS regrets this error.