The bonfire happened Saturday night at the pits, a gravel mine in East Windsor, Conn., where young people go to ride ATVs, drink beer and avoid the prying eyes of adults.
But at some point during the party, a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe hopped onto the back of a four-wheeler and circled the fire, waving a Donald Trump sign. Now police are trying to see if that moment turned a teenage party into the scene of a hate crime.
One of the party’s nearly 50 attendees recorded a video of the spectacle and uploaded it to social media. It has since been deleted, but not before being viewed more than 30,000 times and giving a black eye to that region of northern Connecticut, officials said.
The driver of the ATV wore a cap with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and police believe other people may have worn white supremacist badges.
East Windsor Detective Sgt. Matthew Carl, who called the actions “deplorable,” told The Washington Post that his investigators are still trying to interview people who were at the party and piece together whether laws were broken. No one has been arrested or charged.
Carl has been quelling fears that it was an organized Klan rally since the video spread.
“There’s no fliers, there’s no preplanned ‘let’s have a KKK rally,’ ” he told The Post. “While they had the party, a couple of guys showed up. One of them had a hood and an outfit. They had Trump signs. They were chanting.”
Still, Carl said, the nature of the party doesn’t excuse what happened there.
“Some people took the stance that it was just kids being kids, but you can’t discount the fact that there’s a postelection fear there,” he said. “Fear is fear. We can’t condone this behavior.”
Police are exploring charges that range from simple trespassing to violations of federal hate crime statutes. They also want to know if anything happened off-camera that could be deemed a hate crime.
Investigators admit that the commingling of symbols makes the case complicated. Waving a Trump flag or campaign insignia are protected free speech, of course.
But the Klan robes, Carl said, have raised fears in a town that had Klan rallies as recently as the 1980s. Nearly 84 percent of the people who live in East Windsor are white, and about 7 percent are black.
Like many cities, East Windsor has both Trump supporters and people who supported Hillary Clinton, Carl said. Arguments between the two factions were heated in the months leading up to the election, he said, but they were never criminal.
In East Windsor, 49 percent of voters chose Trump. Clinton won 46 percent of the vote, according to the state.
Tony Frassinelli, the first selectman in nearby Stafford, said even if the incident wasn’t bigoted in nature, he was embarrassed that it happened near where he lives.
“It’s still unacceptable to not . . . realize how that is hurtful, to not realize the ramifications of your actions,” he said.
During the campaign, Trump tried to distance himself from former KKK leader David Duke and other white nationalist leaders and groups who enthusiastically pledged their support for the now president-elect.
Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, tweeted “God Bless WikiLeaks” early Wednesday, shortly after Trump won the presidential election. It was a nod to the organization’s disclosures of emails from Clinton’s campaign that painted her in a bad light.
In the days after Trump’s election, some have wondered aloud if his statements about Muslims, blacks and Mexicans have emboldened people to commit hate crimes.
Recently, an African American church in Mississippi was set on fire and spray-painted with “Vote Trump” on the wall, and another church in Indiana was vandalized with a swastika and the words “Heil Trump,” according to The Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt and Jasper Scherer.
They wrote that three civil rights groups “have tracked a notable spike” in hate crimes since the election.