Anxiety over implied threats still simmers

Shawano Leader, Wisconsin/November 16, 2008

Emotions were running high Friday in the community following revelations last week of the alleged link between the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology and a supposed threat list.

While the general mood in town seemed to have tempered over the weekend, some residents and business owners are still concerned about passions simmering beneath the surface of the strained relationship between the city and SIST.

In a Friday afternoon press conference, Police Chief Ed Whealon said the community's level of anxiety could be calmed by the media presenting factual information.

"If you stick to the facts, I think the community is going to be just fine," he said.

Shawano became a veritable media circus Wednesday as camera crews lingered on and off through Friday evening once news emerged about an alleged threat list authorities have linked to a member or members of SIST.

SIST CEO Naomi Isaacson issued a statement late Thursday accusing the city of concocting the list and hiring a Canadian man to swindle the group out of $175,000.

Whealon called the allegations "absolutely ludicrous."

Isaacson's statement was contained in fliers distributed in the city Friday, sparking numerous calls to police between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Callers complained mostly about the traffic hazard being created as fliers were given to motorists along busy city streets, causing traffic to back up. One caller complained she was nearly rear-ended on Main Street.

In one case, a caller complained about trespassing. Authorities advised those distributing the fliers to stay on the sidewalk.

"It's their right to do this," said Abigail Howards of Shawano, "but they should be sticking to their own properties and not roaming around all of Main Street. I'm sure it's hurting businesses. I came out of Book World and they were right there handing the fliers to me."

Howards said she did not read the fliers and doubted she would.

Several Main Street merchants told the Leader Friday they believed potential customers were being scared away. The owner of one downtown business said a woman visiting the city from Wautoma told her she would never return to Shawano.

"We've had to put up with this before and it's getting real old," said Shawano resident Scott Jenson, who moved to the area about six months ago. "I get sick and tired of driving down Main Street and there they are throwing their arms up with the papers. It's ridiculous."

Jenson said he won't read whatever they hand out.

SIST attorney Alan Eisenberg said he attempted to halt the distribution of the fliers on Friday. He said he was with a woman from one of the SIST-affiliated hotels in town and asked her to put a stop to the activity.

"I told the lady who was with me from the hotel to get them to stop that crap with the flier, and she did right in front of me," he said. "I told her to stop it and she told them to stop it on the cell phone right in front of me."

The fliers continued to be handed out in spite of the request. Eisenberg said he was not sure who was coordinating the effort or who was in charge Friday.

Eisenberg also said he did not see the contents of the flier beforehand, which Isaacson called a press release.

"As soon as I saw it, I didn't like it," he said. "It's not a press release. It's a rant."

However, Eisenberg tried to put Isaacson's statement into some context.

"It was conceived in anger," he said. "She was extremely upset. She was beside herself."

Eisenberg said he would like to see dialog opened up between SIST and the city.

"I'm making an appeal to reach out to people who are interested in formulating a positive, constructive, affirmative goal for the sake of the community - people who are interested in working together," he said. "At least to open discussions."

City officials who could be reached Saturday said they had been advised by legal counsel not to comment on any matters involving SIST while the FBI continues its investigation.

Leader Reporter Cory Dellenbach contributed to this story.

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