A Michigan man accused of attempting to intimidate Black Lives Matter supporters by leaving nooses and threatening notes in his community and making racist threats in phone calls has been charged with hate crimes, the U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday.
The man, Kenneth Pilon, 61, faces six counts of interfering with federally protected activities after racist notes were found in Saginaw, Mich., and racist calls were made to Starbucks stores in the summer of 2020, prosecutors said in court filings in the U.S. Eastern District of Michigan.
The threats described by prosecutors targeted people who wore T-shirts promoting Black Lives Matter, the racial justice movement that saw a surge in support after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
Mr. Pilon’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
Prosecutors said that between late June and mid-July 2020, Mr. Pilon left five nooses with handwritten notes that said, “An accessory to be worn with your ‘BLM’ T-shirt. Happy Protesting!” They were left in parking lots, inside a vehicle and in a beverage cooler inside a 7-Eleven, prosecutors said.
On June 14, 2020, a week before the nooses appeared, Mr. Pilon made nine racist phone calls to nine different Starbucks stores in Michigan, according to court papers.
Two days earlier, Starbucks had announced that it would send Black Lives Matter T-shirts to its stores after it had initially banned workers from wearing apparel with the phrase because it could “amplify divisiveness.”
Mr. Pilon used a racial slur in every call to Starbucks locations in and near Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint and Saginaw. In seven of the calls, he either said that he did not like Black Lives Matter T-shirts or told the person who answered the phone to make a racist comment to workers wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, prosecutors said.
Regina Simon of Saginaw told The Detroit Free Press that in 2020 she and her husband, Donald Simon, found two of the nooses and thought they were being followed.
Ms. Simon said that the couple were playing in their yard with their puppy and wearing Black Lives Matter shirts on a Saturday morning in July 2020. The next day, Mr. Simon found a noose and a threatening note in their vehicle, which had been parked in their driveway with the window partially opened overnight.
About five days later, the couple found another noose and note in a Walmart parking lot next to a cart corral. They organized a Black Lives Matter rally at their home in response, thinking that the person responsible for the racist acts was a neighbor.
They said that they did not know about the other nooses and Starbucks phone calls at the time.
“People who do this are very insecure and scared,” Ms. Simon told The Free Press. “And when they get so loud, that shows just how big their fear is.”