Intact mural outside the International Market Plaza before the vandalism (all images courtesy Fowzia Adde)

Multiple artworks outside a Fargo, North Dakota, immigrant business center have been vandalized with graffiti promoting the white nationalist hate group Patriot Front. Two incidents early last week left five murals spray painted with the group’s name and website stenciled along the facade of the International Market Plaza, which hosts 18 refugee-owned shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. 

Originally installed in 2017, the murals were created by local artists such as Sky Purdin and Daniel Granados and a youth painting group at the nearby Plains Art Museum as part of a $45,000 grantmaking project from ArtPlace America. The painted wood panels show Black and Brown women selling fruit and depict Earth inside a mandala of world languages to represent the communities that frequent the Plaza, including Syrian, Kurdish, Liberian, Nepalese, Ukrainian, and Mexican immigrants. 

Still from an iPhone video taken by Fowzia Adde (screenshot used with permission)
Still from an iPhone video taken by Fowzia Adde (screenshot used with permission)

Owned by the Immigrant Development Center (IDC) in Moorhead, the Plaza is one of few refugee-owned buildings in the area. In the immediate aftermath, immigrant workers and local communities stayed home for fear of potential violence. The IDC has set up a GoFundMe and called on locals to help clean up the site and repaint the murals on Sunday, September 18.

For IDC Executive Director Fowzia Adde, who came to the US from Somalia in 1997, this is a burden on both the safety and financial stability of her community. She described the anonymous vandals as “cowards” and the important role these murals play in welcoming fellow refugees.

“Americans do not understand the meaning of these artworks,” Adde told Hyperallergic. “We use art as a language to say ‘Come visit’ and ‘We are here,’ because we do not have enough money for big advertisements. Now, they have taken away our signs.”

Adde claims that several young men showed up at the Plaza late last week to take pictures and measure the building, but she could not confirm their association with Patriot Front. She also notes that the artists modeled some of the people in the murals after her own children, making the defacement feel like a direct threat.

“They took my kids’ faces, attacked them, and made it personal,” she added.

Still from an iPhone video taken by Fowzia Adde (screenshot used with permission)
Still from an iPhone video taken by Fowzia Adde (screenshot used with permission)

Regarded as an “image-obsessed organization” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Patriot Front similarly targeted local Fargo business Red Raven Espresso Parlor in July, placed stenciled graffiti in a pedestrian tunnel under Interstate 94 in August, and left fliers on cars near the downtown Woodrow Wilson Apartments last week. Many of these propaganda pieces show a silhouette of the US map with the phrase “Not Stolen, Conquered” and the Betsy Ross flag with the phrase “For the Nation, Against the State.” Others show images of White workers smashing dollar signs and anarchist symbols. 

Critics have called Patriot Front a “white supremacist pyramid scheme” for its monetized recruitment model, and NPR claims that one in five applicants has ties to the US military. The organization is also connected with several similar vandalism cases on public artworks promoting racial equity, including the George Floyd statue and Arthur Ashe mural in New York City, Floyd murals in Philadelphia and Portland, a Chadwick Boseman mural in St. Louis, an experimental art space in Baton Rouge, a Pride mural in Olympia, and an anti-racist mural in Tacoma, among many others. 

Fargo police claim they will temporarily increase patrols around the Plaza, while Mayor Tim Mahoney anticipates intervention from the city’s Human Rights commission. Surveillance footage from a nearby local business shows someone in a black hooded sweatshirt spray painting the panels, but police have failed to apprehend any suspects. Neither Mahoney nor the Fargo Police Department immediately responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

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Billie Anania

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.