This story begins in 2016, when St. Patrick’s Church in Hudson was called upon for help.
Five Syrian refugee families -- 11 adults and 15 children -- were approved by the feds for resettlement in Hudson. The church was asked by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to be their support system. The Syrian families had a relative living in Hudson already, and the connection would help them adjust.
St. Patrick’s had never taken in refugees before, so Father John Gerritts asked parishioners their thoughts.
Enter the Citizens for the St. Croix Valley. One of their goals, says their website, is to “Build a strong activist network that will protect our community from those who seek to destroy our way of life.” They were not keen on offering sanctuary to Syrian refugees. That included five families fleeing from their war-torn homeland.
The Citizens’ Facebook page plays regular host to stories pulled from Breitbart, Jihad Watch, and the Geller Report, websites that warn of the creeping influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sharia Law.
Dianne Joachim of New Richmond, a Citizens organizer, made a case to the St. Croix County board last year that letting in refugees would spread disease. Who would pay to save their children from tuberculosis transmitted by Syrian refugees? she asked.
Joachim was one of several to argue that night that letting in the refugees would be too risky for Hudson -- that they should just stay in Syria. (Joachim didn’t respond to interview requests.)
The debate was still unfolding when the feds declared a change of plans. The refugees would instead be sent closer to Milwaukee or Madison, closer to the Lutheran Social Services resettlement offices.
The fight was technically over, but Hudson had revealed an unsettling side.
“The reality is there are people in our community that are not feeling the welcome that most of us did when we first moved here,” Gerritts told the Hudson Star-Observer.
The Citizens for the St. Croix Valley moved on to other menaces in their community. Later that year, a post appeared on the group’s Facebook page asking why teachers at Hudson schools were giving students information about Islam in a world history class. (They also covered Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.)
Joachim later denied the post had ever appeared. Meanwhile, Hudson schools were getting calls about teaching Islam, prompting them to release a statement saying they neither “endorse nor condone the instruction of Sharia law,” and that they were investigating the rumor.
In October, partially due to the uproar over Muslims and repeated instances of rainbow flag burning, a few concerned citizens asked the Hudson City Council to adopt an inclusion resolution. It would have asked people to be welcoming to “all residents, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation/gender identity, ability, religious preference, income, or political affiliation,” and not discriminate on those grounds.
Later that month, the Citizens essentially shut down a City Council meeting on the resolution by proposing two new resolutions of their own: one calling for an educational program on the Constitution, and another declaring that all life begins at conception. By November, the city had passed none of the proposals, instead pushing an ordinance limiting resolutions.
That, says Tony Bol of the Hudson Inclusion Alliance, is how the Citizens work: They wear down institutions that make any gesture toward inclusion or diversity. He never thought it would be easy to get the Inclusion Resolution through, but the Citizens made it impossible.
“Hudson is full of good people with good intentions, but they’re too intimidated to speak up at all,” he says.
“It’s upsetting to see people in our community are not welcoming others,” says Council Member Joyce Hall. She declined to comment further.
Councilman Bill Alms believes the group seems to practice "skepticism without education."
The Citizens declined interview requests, responding only with an email headline "SPLC is a hate group" and a link to an anti-Southern Poverty Law Center website.