Between public displays of propaganda like banners and graffiti, in-person events and incidents of anti-Semitic language, the growth of white supremacy hit an all-time high in 2020, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
The group, which has worked to record incidents of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ propaganda for years, has reported 5,125 instances of white supremacy propaganda in 2020 — nearly twice the number recorded in 2019.
According to Will Carless of USA Today, the data “details incidents in every state excluding Hawaii. It includes 130 incidents of white supremacists putting up banners, 56 in-person white supremacist events and 283 incidents of anti-Semitic language or propaganda that specifically targeted Jewish institutions, a 68% increase from 2019.”
The research is further evidence of just how divided America has become, explained Oren Segal, vice president of the Center on Extremism.
“As if a pandemic, social justice protests and a polarizing election were not enough, one of the other things we’ve been dealing with is a significant increase in efforts by white supremacists to spread their messages around the country,” Segal said in an interview with Carless. “What the numbers suggest is a doubling down on what they view as a successful tactic.”
“Three organizations were responsible for more than 90% of the propaganda incidents,” Carless reported. “The most active group by far was Texas-based Patriot Front, headed by white supremacist Thomas Rousseau, which was behind 4,105 of the incidents. Patriot Front masks its racism in vague phrases like ‘America First’ and ‘Reclaim America,’ but the group’s official manifesto makes its white supremacist goals clear.”
Sarah Vinson, a forensic psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine told USA Today that white supremacist propaganda can have several different effects on communities where it appears.
“When you see these signs up, it can make you less trusting of the white people you’re around, because you don’t know who it is that put it up, and you don’t know who is tolerating that,” she said. “White people who harbor those beliefs may also find those signs validating and reassuring.”
While the growth of white supremacist views has obviously exploded due to social media and internet culture where offensive speech is often able to spread widely and virtually unchecked, Segal said the growth of public exhibitions of white supremacy like those tracked by the Anti-Defamation League also paints a troubling sign of its overall expansion throughout communities.
“The ability for white supremacist groups to crowdsource their propaganda online results in the increase that we’re seeing on the ground,” Segal said. “Anybody can access these materials online and then go out into their community and post it there. So, while it’s an old tactic, it’s being helped by modern technology.”
Carless also notes how increased accessibility to white supremacist propaganda and hate groups has mirrored the overall rise in hate crimes in the last few years; the surge of Anti-Asian hate crimes has grown by nearly 150%, according to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
“It is worrisome to see us moving in the wrong direction at this juncture in history,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of the digital terrorism and hate project at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Social media giants, who, for decades moved slowly and incrementally against online hate, suddenly entered the political arena, impacting on elections and Covid-related health issues.”