Mayor John Hamilton’ speaks Wednesday in the city council chambers at city hall. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times)
Mayor John Hamilton’ speaks Wednesday in the city council chambers at city hall. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times)
Mayor John Hamilton sees inflammatory national rhetoric and “disgraceful” gun laws as major challenges to the city reclaiming its farmers’ market from threats of violence and escalating tensions between protesters and a vendor with alleged ties to white supremacy.

The city of Bloomington announced Monday that it was suspending the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market on Aug. 3 and 10 after identifying threats from individuals with connections to past white nationalist violence.

Hamilton and Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff have declined to elaborate on the nature of those threats but at a packed Wednesday news conference at City Hall the mayor said the city can’t do what private markets have done and ban the vendor in question.

“The First Amendment certainly allows the mayor to speak out forcefully against white supremacy and work against racial injustice in all of its forms,” Hamilton said. “The First Amendment also prohibits using the coercive power of government in response to the content of individual speech or thought — even those that are odious to our community.”

For more than a month, protesters have alleged Schooner Creek Farm owners Sarah Dye and Doug Mackey are associated with the white nationalist hate group Identity Evropa. They sent the city a petition with hundreds of signatures and have since distributed their claims at the market’s entrances. Since the allegations and protests have come to the forefront of the market, several groups have demonstrated outside of an area the city rents to those who wish to engage in political speech.

A group of individuals stood in front of Schooner Creek Farm’s booth earlier this month wearing black clothing, masks, hats and glasses to obscure their faces. On Saturday, Indiana University professor Cara Caddoo carried a sign alleging Schooner Creek Farm’s affiliations. A crowd formed, and an anti-government group identifying themselves as the Indiana chapter of the Three Percenters stood between Caddoo and Schooner Creek Farm's booth.

Caddoo did not comply with market staff and police requests for her to move her demonstration and she was initially arrested for criminal trespass before the charges were dropped.

Several members of the public said at Wednesday’s news conference that they’d seen individuals with guns and knives at the farmers’ market.

“Our national laws and particularly our Indiana laws are disgraceful, and endanger us and should be changed. Most directly here, they work to hamstring us locally from virtually any attempts to manage the presence of firearms are our farmers’ market,” Hamilton said.

“I don’t pretend to be a professional on this, but the theory that more of us carrying more weapons in public settings to make more safety is insane.”

Hamilton discouraged market attendees from bringing weapons. He said he’d like to impose a gun-free zone, but the state legislature has made “exceedingly onerous and threatening laws against any civil officials, local official who tries to regulate that.” One attendee at the news conference asked why signs are banned in certain places and guns are not.
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