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Sunday, December 17 News

Columbus Day vandalism promoted by anarchist group

Statues of Christopher Columbus were vandalized in Norwalk, Bridgeport, Middletown and New Haven in what police say may have been an action coordinated by an anarchist group.

On the eve of the holiday honoring the Italian explorer, blood-red paint was thrown across three of the statues. Only Norwalk’s statue escaped the red paint, but it had “FAKE NEWS” emblazoned on its base.

In Bridgeport, where a larger-than-life Columbus stands tall in the Seaside Park looking south toward the sea, the red paint was accompanied by the words “Kill the Colonizer.”

“I noticed right before I parked. I was like 'What is this red thing on it?'” said Marylin Osoria, of Bridgeport, who came to the park to take a walk.

Then she saw the white-brushed words “Kill the Colonizer,” painted below the statue.

“This is not graffiti,” said Osario, who considers herself no fan of Columbus. “This is not art. This is pure defacement.”

Police departments around the state and country have been working together after learning that an anarchist group was advocating widespread vandalism against Columbus monuments, Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez said.

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Columbus statue defaced in Bridgeport

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“We received information that the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement was going to vandalize our statue at Seaside Park and when officers checked it this morning they found red paint had been poured on it,” Perez said.

The organization, part of the anarchist movement known as “Antifa,” is intent on reigniting this summer’s fierce political debate. They put out a call on social media with the hashtag #destroycolonialism.

In August, while cities in the South roiled over the take-down of Confederate monuments, statues of Christopher Columbus came under fire in the North. One Columbus statue was decapitated with a baseball bat in Yonkers and another was smashed with a sledgehammer by people holding signs reading “Racism: Tear it down.”

Leaders on both sides of the Columbus-as-hero question began taking action. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio convened a commission to review the statue in Columbus Circle while the elders of Columbus Lodge 2143 in Massapequa, N.Y. declared that they would take in and prominently display all Columbus statues that other cities were rejecting.

Fred Bellise, the vice president of the lodge, said that, as of noon on Columbus Day, no one had taken up the offer.

“I’ll see what happens today,” he said.

In Norwalk, the Christopher Columbus monument at Heritage Wall, had “FAKE NEWS” neatly stenciled in white paint on its base.

Marie Iannazzi, president of the Norwalk chapter of The Sons of Italy, said she was saddened by the action.

“If you go into all of these heroes, everyone had a black mark, but the statue honors them for the accomplishments, not for everything in the past," Iannazzi said. "Otherwise, I don’t think we’d have any statues. We’re all people, we’re all flawed.”

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Ken Hughes, Norwalk’s interim parks director, said the tagging of the statute with graffiti likely occurred Saturday night. Norwalk police are investigating. They received a complaint Sunday afternoon about vandalism of the statue, which is the centerpiece of Thomas C. O’Connor park

“We were there cleaning up on Thursday,” Hughes said. “We cleaned up the site for the ceremony and it wasn’t on there then so it probably happened Saturday night. We’ll clean it off the first thing (Tuesday) morning.”

The Sons of Italy, Knights of Columbus and St. Ann Club were to hold a Columbus Day ceremony at the statute on Sunday but relocated the event to the St. Ann Club because of the weather.

The controversy surrounding Columbus has, so far, kept its distance from Stamford.

Stamford Patrol Capt. Susan Bretthauer said the department began increasing patrols of Columbus Park and its eponymous statue on Thursday. About two weeks ago, tthe police had received notice from UNICO National, a group that celebrates Italian-American contributions to the nation, warning the statutes might become targets.

Bretthauer said that she even told her patrol officers when driving by the park to take a glance at the statue.

“Just to pay attention and see if there was anyone hanging around that is up to no good,” Bretthauer said.

Police in Middletown and New Haven stepped up patrols of their monuments. The red paint on those statues had been removed on Saturday.

"I don't care what your view of Christopher Columbus is,” said Middletown Common Councilman Sebastian N. Giuliano, whose father and grandparents came from Melilli, Sicily. “There are other ways to express your disagreement with the whole idea than to show such a lack of respect for the efforts and sensibilities of your fellow citizens.”

Staff writers R. A. Schuetz and Daniel Tepfer contributed to this report

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