City and state authorities were investigating the vandalism as a hate crime.
In late June 2021, numerous reports circulated claiming a statue of George Floyd in New York City was vandalized and spray-painted with a white nationalist slogan less than a week after the monument was installed to commemorate Juneteenth.
The claim was true.
First, the 6-foot statue to memorialize the 46-year-old Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2020 was unveiled on June 19 — the anniversary of one of the final acts of emancipation of slaves in the U.S.
Then, on the morning of June 24, the wooden monument was found covered in black spray paint, including an inscription in white spray paint reading, “PATRIOTFRONT.US,” according to visual evidence from the scene on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and the New York City’s police department (NYPD).
The “PATRIOTFRONT.US” label represents a group of white nationalists that was founded in 2017 by Thomas Rousseau, the same person who led a Neo-Nazi group called Vanguard America, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors far-right extremism.
SPLC describes Patriot Front as “an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism.”
Lindsay Eshelman, who helped produce the statue, told ABC reporters the vandalism was devastating. “Someone in the name of hate, came through the night and defaced it. […] They snuck in,” Eshelman said. “They seem to be incredibly focused on patriotism. But, in my eyes, this was not ‘patriotism’, this was terrorism.”
The NYPD was investigating the incident as a hate crime, which means detectives believed the suspects were motivated by racism, or other prejudice, to deface the monument.
Law enforcement officials told The New York Times that, at least twice, people with ties to the group have allegedly unveiled large banners bearing its slogans and other information across major avenues in New York City. CBS New York reported NYPD considered Patriot Front to be an organized extremist group.
As of this writing, authorities had not made any arrests, and it was unknown who exactly committed the crime.
NYPD had released photos from surveillance video supposedly showing four male suspects — one of whom Al Jazeera reported was holding a spray can — in the area just hours before the property destruction was discovered.
In the tweet displayed below, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was indeed a far-right extremist group that vandalized the statue, and that NYPD’s investigation to find the individuals would lead to criminal charges.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo commented on the incident, too, posting the below-displayed statement in which he said he directed state authorities who investigate hate crimes to assist NYPD in making arrests.
“To the group of neo-Nazis who did this, I want to be absolutely clear: get the hell out of our state,” the governor tweeted.
Around the same time, Chris Carnabuci, the artist who created the sculpture, told The New York Times that crews were working to remove the paint and fix any other damage to the statue, which is to remain in Brooklyn for several weeks before a planned move to Union Square in Manhattan.
“I’m saddened by it,” he told the newspaper, referring to the vandalism. “I”m not completely shocked.”