A local case study on white fragility & Christian nationalism


        For the past two and a half years, my primary research topic has been far-right extremism in Western New York, with the work of my team featured in The Washington Post, Investigative Post, The Buffalo News, Channels 2 & 7, WBFO, LA Progressive, and Political Research Associates. Although the team attempted to get our research into the hands of the media in November and December 2020, the media was uninterested until after January 6, 2021, because our research connects powerful local people to violent extremist activity. Our research was again featured after the white supremacist terrorist attack at a grocery store in Buffalo on May 14, 2022.

        I often use local activist Nancie Orticelli as a focal point. She is a youth pastor at My Father’s House, a church her parents founded in Elma in 1983.[1] Her father was a well known anti-abortion activist.[2] Her mother now co-leads the church.[3] She’s 46 years old, has two children and is married to violent extremist Nicholas Orticelli. She is founder and president of the Constitutional Coalition of New York State (CCNYS), a group founded in 2013 that the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR)  labeled “Constitutionally-Constructed Nationalism.”[4] Every Monday night, CCNYS hosts Coalition Radio, a radio talk show on WEBR AM 1440, and simultaneously casts it on Facebook live. The show co-hosts include her vice president Shawn Lembke, Susan Frankowski, and Michelle Overton, and allows for call-in commentary and guests. In late August, the show focused on January 6. At the end she brought me up – saying, “Heidi Jones hates me.” Shawn commented that Nancie “lives rent free” in the heads of several people, implying that I am one. I guess she does, but I’m more interested in what she represents, how she represents it and why than Nancie per se. She lives very visibly within a white Christian nationalist context and that’s useful for me in exposing local white supremacism. She does not consider herself racist and talks about having Black friends, which are typical of white people enmeshed in white fragility.         


The CCNYS Facebook page explicitly invites a broad range of people to be involved in their group, “We are dedicated to informing, updating, and alerting as many citizens as we can, and encouraging everyone to help spread the word and open eyes! We welcome everyone, no matter race, creed, national origin, color, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. We are ALL in this together!”[5] Note that this description does not include sexual orientation, gender presentation, ethnicity, or religion in the definition of “everyone.” The hosts of their weekly webcast routinely denigrate non-Christians, people of color, and LGBT people with a special emphasis on transgender people.[6] In nearly every episode of the webcast, the hosts demonstrate features of white fragility, as explained by DiAngelo:

  • We don’t see ourselves in racial terms.
  • Our opinions are uninformed.
  • We don’t understand socialization.
  • We have a simplistic understanding of racism.[7]

In other words, they “other” folks unlike them:

Othering is not about liking or disliking someone. It is based on the conscious or unconscious assumption that a certain identified group poses a threat to the favoured group.… Overwhelmingly, people don’t “know” those that they are Othering.[8]

Orticelli often frames herself as “color-blind,” an ideology in which DiAngelo says, “…if we pretend not to notice race, then there can be no racism.” Frankenberg notes that color-blind ideology ignores power, stating “color- and power-evasiveness… remains dominant in the United states… ‘color-blindness’ [is] a mode of thinking about race organized around an effort not to ‘see’ or at any rate, not to acknowledge, race differences…”[9]  Yet Orticelli also calls residents of the majority-Black East Side of Buffalo “those people” or “people groups”, especially after the May 14, 2022, white supremacist terrorist attack. During the May 16, 2022, episode, she says:

I almost wanted to cancel tonight, it almost feels disrespectful… I know the perception that people have about me personally and our organization. The perception is not correct. if you would take the time to get to know us and what we stand for, you’d understand that. We’re not trying to take away the freedoms of any people group, it’s not to take away freedoms of anyone ever. Our mission is to provide information to every human being and individual that we can, as far as what’s happening politically in NYS and specifically WNY and let people come up with their own decisions about things like vetting candidates. We do support the candidates who are more conservative, because they’re more likely to uphold the Constitution.  If the left had candidates that uphold the constitution, we’d support them…. We support the Constitution.”

In a report tying legislators to far-right groups, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights defines “Constitutionally-constructed nationalisms” as “tend[ing] to build a narrative national identity through a distorted telling of U.S. and Constitutional history that underplays the centrality of racism to our history and advances a reinterpretation and de facto (or de jure) restructuring of the U.S. Constitution that would radically undermine equality and government capacity to address issues of public good.”[10] IREHR places CCNYS firmly in this camp, with nods to Second Amendment extremism. During the May 16 Coalition Radio episode, Orticelli played a clip of City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s remarks after the May 14, 2022, white supremacist massacre at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo where he advocated for sensible gun control.[11] She stated that Brown was “pandering” with the suggestion and also (accurately) stated that the red-flag laws failed in this instance. Lembke called the NY SAFE Act unnecessary simply because it did not stop the shooter from acquiring illegal weaponry. Orticelli also talked about Brown and New York State Governor Kathy Hochul’s desire to get “hate speech” off of social media. She cited the First Amendment, completely failing to recognize the First Amendment limits government action, and fully allows private corporations to restrict whatever speech they like from their properties. She said, “Gun control and internet control, that’s the answer apparently….and the sad fact is that people say we have to end racism, that’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard anyone say… You can make being racist a crime, which it is, it is a crime to have any kind of hate crime or hate speech in this country. You cannot change the hearts of men, only God can do that.” This misunderstanding of the actual Constitution and how the laws work is rampant throughout Coalition Radio.

To further illustrate CCNYS’s constitutionally-constructed nationalism, Orticelli said on the May 16, 2022, episode, “I’m not an alt-right person, I’m just a Constitution person,” She seems oblivious to how distorted her understanding of the Constitution is. In a December 2021 speech Orticelli gave to the “Freedom Lovers of Franklinville” in Cattaraugus County, she urged attendees to not only not comply with covid mandates, but also not comply with liquor laws – by setting up illegal bars – and education law – by setting up unlicensed schools, and the SAFE Act.[12] 

Later in the May 16 episode, she stated that she does not want to talk about the May 14, 2022, white supremacist terror attack at a Tops in the heart of the East Side because she thought it would be taken wrong, “I’ll get slammed by the local left no matter what,” exemplifying DiAngelo’s analysis around feelings of white fragility: singled-out, attacked, angry and then avoiding both conversation and space.[13] 

Orticelli then read a carefully worded statement that she had posted on Facebook. She said she’s “heartbroken, shocked, horrified, devastated… I condemn and disavow racism of any kind. My mission is to ensure Constitutional rights for all or rights for none. I don’t care if you are [list of othered groups]. I don’t care what you identify as, that’s your choice.” She stated that she fights for their rights to make that choice, “We are all created equal and in the image of God.” She goes on to disassociate from “real racists and real white supremacists to slip under the radar and shoot up a Tops… I would like nothing more than to go down to the East Side and stand with every people group and say let’s be united but they won’t let us, we would be attacked because of their false perception of who we are and what we do…. We’re not racist.” Overton says she doesn’t understand how they are perceived as racist. “I have friends that are of color.” Nancie interjects that “you’ll be demonized [by the left] for that.” Lembke said, “The left has always looked at the American flag and the Constitution as being racist and we stand up for both of them.”

        The Coalition Radio discussion neatly illustrates DiAngelo’s points about white fragility. They don’t have any concept of what racism is, and over the course of listening to many episodes, I have come to understand their definition of racism – intentionally causing physical harm to someone Black because they are Black, and even then they find excuses. In the May 16 episode Orticelli states that “racism is a crime” referencing hate crimes only. The n-word is not even really racist in their minds, since Black people seem to be allowed to say it, which just becomes an example of reverse racism to them. They also don’t see themselves as “white,” rather they are people, and it’s others, like Blacks, Jews, and LGBTQ folks who are assigned to “people groups.”

A tweet from Charles Pellien that reads, "Just occasionally, would you like me to show you how to do something for a black kid? Because I know you never have."
In a Charles Pellien using Black children to wash his racism.
A video still of Charles Pellien and Brett Biro during a New York Watchmen webcast. Brett's t-shirt reads "American Supremacy."
A video still of Charles Pellien and Brett Biro during a New York Watchmen webcast. Brett’s t-shirt reads “American Supremacy.”

Orticelli also refuses to accept that she associates with known “real white supremacists” like Todd and Brett Biro of Niagara Falls. Todd Biro is a member of White Lives Matter and formerly a leader of the Aryan Renaissance Society.[14] She considers Charles Pellien, founder of the anti-Black Lives Matter organization the New York Watchmen,[15] a good friend and often praises his work. Pellien describes himself as “just a patriot”.[16]  The refusal to acknowledge racism and white supremacy described by DiAngelo is clearly articulated by Pellien in a 2022 facebook post, “The only white supremacy in this country other than psycho mental cases [such as the Tops shooter] is white liberals in positions of power claiming minorities cannot succeed without them as their savior and placing the victim tag on people to convince them they can not rise above on their own.”[17] Pellien frequently uses young people of color to wash his racism – he leads a nonprofit organization called Bills Fan Thunder that provides “inner city” children with tickets to Buffalo Bills games and then claims that he has done more for Black children than whoever his current conversational opponent is.[18] [19]  Pellien also co-hosted a webcast with Brett Biro about the activities of the Watchmen, featuring Biro’s “American Supremacy” t-shirt and Proud Boys beanie, as well as call-ins from his brother Todd.

Photo left to right: Jul Thompson who was teargassed in the January 6, 2021, insurrection; her husband Rus Thompson who was convicted of voter fraud; Pellien; Orticelli.
Photo left to right: Jul Thompson who was teargassed in the January 6, 2021, insurrection; her husband Rus Thompson who was convicted of voter fraud; Pellien; Orticelli.

Gorski & Perry also provide insight into the CCNYS framework; they articulate White Christian Nationalism as having three essential components: freedom, order, and violence.[20] In the same May 16 episode, Orticelli describes a December 2020 rally hosted by a range of “patriot” groups including CCNYS and its allies the Rolling Patriots, the Marching Patriots, Free NYS, and a subsequent confrontation with folks that she called “antifa.” She said that her groups were worried about “security” so they invited the anti-BLM/anti-antifascist New York Watchmen as well.[21] The Watchmen have significant overlap with the Buffalo area Proud Boys, a male/Western chauvinist organization, according to Pellien.[22]

An image of a post by Charles Pellien to the national Watchmen telegram group, "NY Watchmen have about 20 going. You may not recognize them because they are also members of the proud boys [sic]. If you see anything that says Buffalo NY, just know that they are Watchmen also.
An image of a post by Charles Pellien to the national Watchmen telegram group.

Orticelli described the event as promoting “freedom” – freedom for business owners to conduct business during the government-mandated covid shutdowns. Freedom of course does not include the front-line, low-wage workers of those businesses to remain covid-free. She called on the Watchmen to maintain order, and then exalted their violence against the anti-fascists. Antifascists had confronted then Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw about not wearing a mask and then Nicholas Orticelli started a fight.[23] In the aftermath, one antifascist had two broken ribs and a concussion. The Watchmen/ Proud Boys felt fully justified in starting a fight against a bunch of punk teenagers and young adults because they are white people empowered to enforce order with violence.

I wish I could call Nancie and ask her the survey questions that Gorski & Perry used for their book. I’m sure she would fail the history section (p. 24). Orticelli routinely misrepresents the contents of the Constitution, in the rare cases she discusses its actual contents. Coalition Radio also clarifies CCNYS’s stance about democracy – they state that the United States is not a democracy, it is a republic, as if those are mutually exclusive.[24] They don’t believe that all citizens should be able to vote, only the right ones that believe as they do.


I recognize the difficulties with calling out racism and white supremacy – the definitions are contested and the media rarely uses the descriptors accurately, if at all, and it is generally considered impolite or divisive to call out racism.[25] I’ve coined the term “Toxic Americana” to pull together some strands that are not quite included in Gorski & Perry, but referenced in Walter, and in Sexton’s work.[26] Two of the groups associated with CCNYS are the Rolling Patriots and the Marching Patriots.[27] They wear patriotic gear, decorate their large trucks with flags, and parade through the suburban Buffalo towns. My team, using a Department of Homeland Security model, considers these groups to be a gateway to further radicalization: they portray themselves as just regular patriotic Americans and Christians, but they are tightly connected to much more radical actors such as Nicholas Orticelli, Pellien and the Biros.[28] Indicators of toxic Americana include patriotic and/or Christian symbols that are overtly or covertly violent; gendered hierarchical language; and a limited “We” of “We the People,” often bounded by originalist Constitutional concepts.

An array of "patriotic" posters using violent imagery to illustrate "Toxic Americana".
An array of “patriotic” posters using violent imagery to illustrate “Toxic Americana”. Image from Jarod Yates Sexton.

I attended a demolition derby event at the Holland Speedway this fall and toxic Americana dominated the landscape, from the language of the Powder Puff races limited to women billed as “girls who are driving cars!”, to the constant God and prayer references, insidious homophobia, and patriotic imagery everywhere. Toxic Americana is in contrast to non-toxic Americana, which might include the “Wreaths Across America” project honoring the graves of deceased veterans,[29] or the music genres like blues, bluegrass and jazz celebrated by the Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation which welcomes the racial, gender and geographic diversity of distinctly American music forms.[30] Maybe for a future project I will explore toxic Americana. Photo: Jared Yates Sexton.


[4] https://www.irehr.org/reports/breaching-the-mainstream/appendix-a-legislator-membership-in-far-right-facebook-groups/ Search for David DiPietro, who is the NYS Assembly member for district 147. DiPietro also belongs to Facebook groups categorized as “COVID Denial” and “Tea Party.” Nancie Orticelli works for him.

[6] See July 18, 2022 episode. Citations to webcasts omitted as they are in video and audio formats, thus time-consuming to index. Archives are here: https://webrradio.com/the-coalition-radio,  https://soundcloud.com/webrradio/sets/coalition-radio and video on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CCofNYS/. Some of the Facebook videos have been removed, I can only assume because of content that they were uncomfortable with.

[7] DiAngelo, R. J. (2018). White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press. Homophobia and transphobia are also critical features of the CCNYS webcast.

[9] Frankenberg, R. (1994) White Women, race matters: The social construction of whiteness. University of Minnesota Press. P. 142.

[13] DiAngelo, p. 119.

[16] Pellien posted this on Facebook today, Jan. 6, 2022, but has already taken it down. He frequently posts something and deletes it shortly after.

[20] Gorski, P.S. & Perry, S.L. (2022) The Flag & the Cross: White Christian nationalism and the threat to American democracy. Oxford University Press. P.7 and throughout

[22] National Watchmen telegram account 12/24/20.

[26] Walter, B.F. (2022) How civil wars start and how to stop them. Crown.


[27] A group of about 20 Marching Patriots were photographed at the January 6, 2021, insurrection in their matching maroon hoodies. Peter J. Harding of Cheektowaga was wearing one when he entered the Capitol. https://www.wbfo.org/crime/2021-02-02/pete-hardings-court-appearance-pushed-to-next-month-fbi-using-defendants-social-media-as-evidence

See also https://www.facebook.com/CCofNYS/videos/372879493779212/