As the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market prepared to open again after being shut down for two weeks, a small group of vendors stood together in a circle between booths and joined hands.
One vendor, Monica Billman, read a speech of welcome for the market and its visitors.
“Bloomington is an amazing place because of the diversity of its people,” Billman said. “Coming together makes the world a better place. Show some love for your neighbor, especially if they're different from you.”
The message came in response to growing contention at the market in recent months after claims surfaced that Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey of Schooner Creek Farm are members of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa.
Since then, their presence has brought protests and a two-week closure of the market for safety precautions.
When it opened again this Saturday, the scene looked familiar to marketgoers.
Children played their violins for cash, shoppers wandered the aisles while eating newly-purchased peaches and a light breeze brought forth smells of fresh coffee, basil leaves and buttery baked goods.
But changes in the market’s atmosphere were obvious. Police patrolled between the stands. People eyed the emergency vehicles blocking off car access to the streets surrounding the market as part of new safety features added after the suspension.
Some vendors were missing, choosing instead to sell at a makeshift market that sprung up in the Bloomingfoods East parking lot while the city market was shut down.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said shutting the market down temporarily was the right move, even though it was difficult.
Although he opposes white supremacy, he said Bloomington has to hold up the constitutional right to speech but also make it clear the city is against hatred.
“Everyone is welcome in Bloomington,” he said.
Billman and her husband Kyle decided to take a financial hit by not bringing inventory from their gardening store, Goldleaf Hydroponics. Instead they handed out yellow balloons with messages about loving everyone at the market.
“This is our effort to preach love and positivity at our market space,” Billman said.
While some like the Billmans tried to encourage positivity, there was still tension.
No Space For Hate, a group protesting Schooner Creek’s presence, had a tent at one corner of the market to educate people as they walked in.
Some shoppers already seemed aware of the situation.
“That lady’s a Nazi,” one woman told her group as she walked by Dye at Schooner Creek’s stand. “Stay away from her.”
Dye and Mackey were tied to white nationalist group Identity Evropa through curated online chat transcripts from reporting collective Unicorn Riot. According to FBI testimony from Nolan Brewer, who vandalized a synagogue in Carmel, Indiana, Brewer told investigators he had met people named Sarah and Douglas online in connection with Identity Evropa.
A few women walked up to the Schooner Creek stand, their faces partially hidden by bright construction paper masks that said, “Love one another.”
Dye and Mackey sold their vegetables as usual, fielding media requests between transactions and doing their best to ignore protesters.
Dye said she is an identitarian, which she only explained as part of the larger conversation about identity politics. It’s “only natural” to acknowledge one’s identity, she said, and dismissed people who call her a white nationalist or supremacist.
“Those are derogatory racial slurs that are used to dehumanize me,” Dye said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, identitarianism is a racist European movement with growing branches in the United States that stands against immigration and multiculturalism. SPLC considers Identity Evropa part of the identitarian movement.
Robert Hall, leader of Grassroots Conservatives in Bloomington, came to the market to show support for Schooner Creek. He said the real problem is protesters on the left and antifa, which stands for anti-fascists, who are making it difficult for Dye and Mackey to sell at the market.
“It’s awful what they’re going through to make a living,” Hall said.
He said people are lying about the couple’s beliefs, which he sees as being against globalism and mass immigration.
In the spot where vendor Greg Deemer normally sells Stanford Farm produce, he had no curated stock of vegetables or even a table — just a single New York Early onion on the ground and a small wooden sign laying down next to it: “Stanford Farm, onion $1.”
The onion was a way to bring attention to the Schooner Creek’s continued presence at the market and start a conversation, Deemer said. He hoped he could help change people’s minds and encourage them to take action.
Deemer feels Dye and Mackey’s presence is no longer a First Amendment right because they’re intimidating to people, and negative comments have also been made online.
Deemer’s wife sold the rest of Stanford Farm’s produce at the alternative market at Bloomingfoods East.
Even though the onion was technically for sale, Deemer said he wasn’t too keen to part with it when people actually asked.
“I kind of want to keep the onion as a protest onion,” he said.
Dark clouds and thunder rolled closer to the market over the course of the morning. Around noon, rain began pouring on vendors and shoppers alike.
The weather brought a sudden end to Saturday’s market for many attendees even as the debate continues over how to proceed so everyone feels safe and respected.
For Schooner Creek Farm, the choice for now is to stay.
“We have a fighting spirit,” Dye said.
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