Members of Joppatowne Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5838 on Pulaski Highway say they were unknowingly renting their hall once a year for about a decade to a white supremacist group.
That practice ended this week soon after the group's identity was brought to the VFW post's attention on Sunday and the following night they released a statement on their Facebook page saying they canceled their rental agreement with the group.
"We didn't know" the neo-Nazi group, known as Maryland State Skinheads, were white supremacists, Robert Waag, the post's quartermaster, said Wednesday evening. Waag said they were tipped off on Sunday by the Mid-Atlantic General Defense Committee Local 21, who made calls to the post decrying that the post was renting to white supremacists.
"Once it was brought to our attention, at that point we had no choice," Waag said. "Obviously, we wouldn't rent the hall to a white supremacist group, or any other group that doesn't share our organization's values."
VFW Post 5838 Commander Sandra Smallwood said that Jason Tankersley has been contracting with the local VFW to rent its hall for nearly 10 years.
A 2007 National Geographic documentary, "American Skinheads," records Tankersley identifying himself as the leader of the Maryland State Skinheads, a neo-Nazi group. In the film, Tankersley, standing in front of a "white pride" sign, talks about the process of becoming a member of the group and even awards a man with a patch, welcoming the man to "the club."
Tankersley had contracted with VFW Post 5838 to rent its hall this year on March 25 for $400. Smallwood said Tankersley told the post he was renting the hall to hold a St. Patrick's Day party with food and drink.
Waag said the post rents the hall to groups and individuals to help put much-needed funds in their coffers in order to continue to operate the hall.
"This really, really hurt us," Smallwood said Thursday about the loss of the rental money.
Tankersley could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Members of the VFW Post concidentally gathered for a regular meeting Monday night during which they discussed and then acted on the rental agreement. They took to Facebook at about 9:40 p.m. Monday, releasing the following statement:
"It has been brought to our attention that a group renting our hall does not represent the values and the views of Joppatowne Memorial VFW Post 5838 and the VFW. We have canceled the event and are in the process of returning their deposit. We sincerely apologize to our Post 5838 members and to our community for this unfortunate misunderstanding. We pledge to do a better job scrutinizing future hall rental applicants going forward."
Mid-Atlantic General Defense Committee Local 21, which describes itself on its Facebook page as an "anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist" organization, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. The following message was posted Tuesday on its Facebook page:
"More good news, everyone: after several days of phone calls from the GDC and other antifascists, VFW Post 5838 in Joppa, MD has given us verbal confirmation and this post on their Facebook site that they are canceling an upcoming white supremacist concert that was booked at their hall. The event was being organized by hate groups Label 56, Keystone United, and Maryland Skinheads. Let this be a message to fascists everywhere: you are not welcome in Maryland. Our communities won't stand for it!"
The VFW Post 5838, a small, nondescript building on Pulaski Highway in Joppatowne, rents its 110-person capacity hall on the second floor to various groups as a way to pay its bills, Waag said.
"As many as we can," Waag said in regard to the question abouthow many groups rent the hall. "Probably, not many, about four per month."
"In this day and age all of the legacy organizations are hurting [financially]," he said. "Hall rental is a significant portion of our revenue."
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Waag said VFW 5838 has never had problems with events that the group identified this week as white supremacists has held at the post, adding that screening renters for the hall is an inexact science.
"We've had less trouble with people who look disreputable than those who don't," he said. "We've rented to families who bounced the check and left the hall a mess. Then we can't find them."
There have been concerns expressed, but no outcry, Waag said, since the emails Sunday about Maryland State Skinheads. He said he has received about 20 calls about the issue. The quartermaster, a position which Waag said is equivalent to treasurer in some organizations, said he spoke with everyone who called.
"I thought it was important to talk to the people," he said, whom he characterized as polite and understanding.
No one supporting the white supremacists has called the post, Waag said.
Some in the community have suggested people make donations to replace the $400 rental that is being returned, but Waag said he hasn't seen any evidence of that yet.
"That rental would have paid our utilities for the month," he said.