Rabbi Peter Rigler was taken aback by the message from one of his congregants in Broomall. Who, exactly, was Identity Evropa? And why were members of the white supremacist group bowling on the same lanes where the rabbi had hosted his children’s birthday parties?
“When you talk about it being here, out in the open in our community, my goal is not to frighten our community, because I truly believe that we’re safe and that the majority of the community stands with us,” Rigler said. “But it is shocking.”
Several members of Temple Sholom, the synagogue Rigler leads, reached out to him this week with a mix of confusion and outrage after reading a report from Unicorn Riot, an independent news website, that mentioned their quiet corner of Delaware County. The site on March 8 published a cache of leaked internal communications from Identity Evropa, a group that espouses the importance of “white American culture” and had created the “You will not replace us” chants featured at the tiki-torch rallies in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.
The leaked messages detailed efforts by members of the group to get together in the Philadelphia region. And one of those meetups took place in late February at Sproul Lanes, a family-run bowling alley that’s been an institution on Sproul Road in Springfield, Delaware County, since 1961.
The group didn’t cause a scene — managers at the bowling alley say they didn’t even realize the group was there. But its quiet presence has unnerved some residents and reinforced how savvy these groups have become in organizing.
“We realize this is not something, obviously, that Sproul Lanes is endorsing,” Rigler said. “I think it’s important for our students to know that this is out there in the world."
Steve Silver, a member of Temple Sholom who reached out to Rigler about the leaked texts, saw the revelation as a teachable moment.
“A lot of people around Philly will have attitudes that ‘down in the South, that’s where people are racist, unlike here,’ ” Silver said. “That’s not the case. There are racist people everywhere, and this sort of reinforces that.”
Patrick Casey, the current leader of Identity Evropa, dismissed Silver’s concern.
“Those upset Jewish congregations have a healthy sense of ethnic identity,” Casey said in an email to The Inquirer. “The idea that white people are to be the only ones denied the same is both hateful and anti-white.”
Casey said that Identity Evropa has been “retired” and rebranded as “American Identity Movement,” because it was “held down by baggage accumulated before my tenure.” The new group, according to a news release this week, is focused on “defending America against globalism.”
Casey didn’t elaborate on the “baggage” that ended Identity Evropa, but the group’s members were prominently featured at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, and the organization has been named as a defendant in Sines v. Kessler, an ongoing federal lawsuit alleging the group and others conspired to spread a message of racial hatred.
The New York attorney who filed the lawsuit last year praised an earlier cache of messages that Unicorn Riot had leaked, calling it “a lawyer’s gift.”
Amid the trove of the more recently leaked messages, sent via Slack, was a photo taken by an Identity Evropa member of the group’s scorecard at Lanes 21 and 22 of Sproul Lanes.
“This is why they let me rule the state,” the member boasted. He had bowled a 126, the highest score of the six group members who apparently made the trip to Sproul Lanes — chosen because of its centralized location, according to the messages.
Marple Township Police Chief Tom Murray said that his department has been in contact with both Rigler and the bowling alley, and that increased patrols have been instituted in the area “out of an abundance of caution.”
But Murray noted that there were no reported incidents on the day of the alleged outing by Identity Evropa. Bowling alley staff said if the group’s members did strap on shoes and rent a lane, they did so quietly.
“We’re a family-friendly place; we do not support anything like that,” Fred Conaway, Sproul Lanes’ manager, said this week as he oversaw an afternoon rush of bowlers. “No one saw anything, no one noticed anything out of the ordinary that day. It’s hard to stop something you don’t know about.”
Social media have facilitated these conversations for fringe groups, according to Nancy Baron-Baer, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia office. Slack channels like the ones leaked by Unicorn Riot are often the only way members of these groups, who are usually separated by great physical distance, can socialize and become “further indoctrinated,” she said.
Other messages from the group also frequently mock Mayor Jim Kenney and the Philadelphia School District, and pine for former Mayor Frank Rizzo, who died in 1991 and whose picture is posted in the chat with the caption “Make Philadelphia Great Again.” Before the bowling trip, the group — whose members apparently are scattered throughout Pennsylvania, northern Maryland, and New Jersey — successfully organized a meetup at the Philadelphia Art Museum in mid-January, according to the chat.
Identity Evropa is particularly known for its subtlety, Baron-Baer added. Its members avoid the normal iconography and speech associated with white supremacy groups and are best known for their “flier-ing” campaigns on college campuses, including a reported incident at Drexel University last year. They also place emphasis on their outward appearance, adopting an unofficial uniform of khakis and sport coats.
“I believe it’s a way to have people think that you’re part of the mainstream or of holding mainstream values,” Baron-Baer said. “They are very particular in not wanting to engage in public altercations because it might make them look bad.
“If individuals come to bowl, that’s one thing,” she added. “If they come to protest, that’s another.”