White supremacists increased their propaganda efforts across the United States last year, with the highest number of incidents of propaganda distribution reported since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking such incidents, the group reported Wednesday.
The number of incidents of hate groups leaving flyers, stickers, banners and posters in public places more than doubled from 1,214 in 2018 to 2,713 in 2019, according to the ADL, which tracks and fights to combat hate. That averages more than seven a day.
“Distribution of propaganda has been a tried-and-true tactic of white supremacists and other extremists for decades, but what is apparent in our research is that these individuals are more emboldened by the current environment – and fliering and stickering provides an easy and anonymous way to spread their hateful message to a large audience,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of ADL.
“For some, seeing such propaganda may be the first step in the process of an individual engaging with white supremacy. Another could be marching with one of these groups,” he added. “We feel it’s important to shed light on this as a way to bring increased awareness and potentially intervene in someone’s pathway into white supremacy and extremism.”
White supremacist groups often promote ideas of a prosperous white America at the expense of any other minority and often with derogatory and hateful language.
College campuses were targeted with white supremacist propaganda in 630 incidents, nearly double the 320 cases in 2018, the ADL tally found. Propaganda was found and reported on 433 campuses across 43 states and the District of Columbia in 2019, the report said.
The upward trend continues from the 2019 spring semester, which itself set a record for the most extremist propaganda found on campus since 2016, when the ADL began tracking this kind of activity.
Colleges have traditionally been a focus of white supremacists in the hopes of recruiting new members, the ADL said. But the fact that many campuses were only targeted once or twice suggests that recruitment was not successful, the group said.
The number of off-campus incidents reported of white supremacist propaganda distribution more than doubled, the report said. And incidents occurred in every state except Hawaii, the ADL said.
California, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Washington and Florida ranked the highest for the numbers of reports.
The increasing distribution of white supremacist propaganda appears to be part of a rising trend of intolerance, also reflected in the number of hate crimes reported to the FBI in the past few years.
Who’s behind the propaganda?
The group Patriot Front, which portrays itself as patriotic and uses messages that have white supremacist and neo-fascist ideology, according to the ADL, was behind about two-thirds of the propaganda incidents in 2019, the report said. Patriot Front regularly boasts on social media about their efforts and posts stylized photos of them across many platforms.
The distribution of Patriot Front material, with a red, white and blue color scheme, appeared to focus on college campuses during the months of September and October with messages like “One Nation Against Invasion,” “For the Nation Against the State” and “America is Not for Sale.”
“The barrage of propaganda, which overwhelmingly features veiled white supremacist language with a ‘patriotic’ slant, is an attempt to normalize the white supremacists’ message and bolster recruitment efforts while targeting minority groups including Jews, Blacks, Muslims, non-white immigrants and the LGBTQ community,” said Oren Segal, ADL’s vice president for the Center on Extremism.
Propaganda from three groups, including the Patriot Front, made up approximately 90% of the activity last year, the report said. Two of those groups were established in the last three years. The newer groups – at least in terms of distributing propaganda – far outpace the older purveyors of hate, the ADL data shows.
Seven different groups linked to the Ku Klux Klan were responsible for 53 incidents of propaganda, the ADL said, down from 102 in 2018 and lower than the Klan’s five-year average of 82.