ESSEX — Police say they are investigating reports of an assault on a local man after he spoke to the media about an acquaintance who attended the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Essex police said they became aware of the assault allegations via members of the media. Officials said they have since located and interviewed Sam Wormer, who initially described the attack on social media.
Last week Wormer told The Burlington Free Press that he went to high school with Ryan Roy, a Burlington resident who appears in Vice News coverage of the deadly rally. Roy was fired from his job at Uno Pizzeria and Grill after a social media backlash against him.
Wormer told the Free Press that he strongly disagrees with Roy’s white supremacist views, but said no good would come from having him fired or calling on the Department for Children and Families to take his son.
“Taking away somebody’s job and livelihood — I mean, that’s just adding fuel to the fire,” Wormer told the Free Press.
Wormer did not immediately respond to a Facebook message Monday from VTDigger requesting an interview.
Early Wednesday, the day after the Free Press interview appeared, Wormer posted a photo on Facebook appearing to show a cut on his abdomen. The post read: “This is social justice apparently. This is what i get for sticking up for someone. Cowards.”
In a subsequent comment on the post, Wormer said he was “jumped” for defending Roy and that his assailants were masked.
The right-wing news website BigLeaguePolitics.com reported in a post titled “Man Stabbed By Antifa Mob Outside His Home For Not Condemning ‘Nazis’ Hard Enough” that Wormer said he was attacked by five masked men armed with box cutters. Wormer said, according to the post, that his assailants called him a “Nazi” and “fascist.”
“Antifa” is a shortening of “anti-fascist” and refers to loosely connected groups of sometimes militant leftists focused on confronting the far right directly rather than pushing leftist policies. Members often cover their faces and wear black at rallies and protests, and are frequently blamed for property damage or provoking violent confrontations.
In a comment that Wormer appears to have subsequently deleted from his original post about the incident, he writes of his attackers: “I never said they were affiliated with antifa and i hope they weren’t cuz I support a lot of what antifa does when they’re not shutting down black metal shows. They called me nazi and fascist and some other words were thrown around too.” Wormer adds that the assault happened quickly and he was focused on defending himself.
Wormer told the fact-checking website Snopes.com that just two of the five people who confronted him outside his home actually participated in the attack. He disputed the premise of the BigLeaguePolitics.com post blaming anti-fascist groups.
“I honestly don’t think antifa had anything to do with this. I personally believe this was a false flag attack perpetrated by the far right to further their own agenda,” Wormer told Snopes.
Wormer said a local antifa group contacted him after the assault “trying to figure out what happened [and] who’s responsible, and have been very very supportive,” according to Snopes.
Both Snopes and BigLeaguePolitics reported that Wormer did not seek medical attention after the incident and did not initially contact police.
Essex Police Capt. George Murtie confirmed Monday that Wormer did not report the incident to police.
Murtie said that after being contacted by members of the media late last week, detectives located and interviewed Wormer. The detectives solicited a report from Wormer, and the investigation of the alleged assault is ongoing, Murtie added. No arrests have been made.
“At this point it’s an open investigation, and I can’t really give you more information on where that investigation is heading,” Murtie said. “If this assault happened in our community, we want to get to the bottom of it, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Murtie said this is the “first and only” case that he’s aware of where anti-fascist groups are alleged to have assaulted someone in Essex.
Essex police rejected a public records request by VTDigger for the report detectives took from Wormer, citing an exemption for active investigations.
It’s unclear how active anti-fascist groups are in Vermont. A Twitter account @VermontAntifa is very active, but appears to be a parody account. A Burlington Antifa Facebook page is less active, with the most recent post from July 18 linking to a field guide on wheat paste, which is frequently used for street art and graffiti.
Before that, the group posted a link to a Washington Post op-ed about Middlebury College students protesting conservative speaker Charles Murray, with the message, “Power to our comrades at Middlebury College! No platform for hate!”
A person responding to VTDigger from the Burlington Antifa page declined to provide his or her name, saying anonymity is “the cornerstone of our movement.” The person reported being unaware of the incident with Wormer, but said it would not be surprising if anti-fascists had contacted Wormer to renounce the attack, which the person described as “disheartening.”
“Our ultimate goal is to drive hate far from the lives of those around us. We condemn white nationalism and think the complacency of disaffected liberals furthers the cause of such fascists,” the person said in a message. “That being said, stabbing a moderate for his potential ignorance is disgusting and the furthest thing from a benefit to anyone.”
The person could not provide an estimate of how many local activists identify as antifa, saying anyone at rallies, marches and demonstrations spreading an anti-fascist or anti-capitalist message could be considered antifa.
The person acknowledged the confrontational nature of the antifa movement, saying that to send a message and address the “destruction capitalism has caused and the horrendous deeds of fascism and far-right nationalism, we must defy the state’s monopoly on violence.”
“Turning the inherent violence of hateful systems against them is the only way to sufficiently respond to them. As long as prejudiced ideologies manifest themselves in our communities we will fight them, and to be complacent enough to let them flourish is the reason they’re so prevalent today,” the person responding from the Burlington Antifa account added.