According to a new ADL report, white supremacist propaganda doubled last year in the United States, with a total of 2,713 cases being reported in 2019. This is the highest number of incidents the ADL has ever recorded. Cases of propaganda in Georgia contributed to that number.
“The report found that there was a steady increase in the number of propaganda distributions across the country,” said Amy Iandioro, one of ADL’s investigative researchers on extremism. Propaganda means physical pieces of literature, stickers, banners and other items that are placed in a public space, she said. This report only focuses on physical propaganda: “Online propaganda is its own beast … They have different levels of success and exposure than what we track in the public sphere,” she said.
In Georgia, both Patriot Front and the Daily Stormer Book Club distributed flyers, according to an ADL press release. Patriot Front’s propaganda efforts included placing fliers on the front of a synagogue in Columbus, GA., that said, “Better dead than red” and “Reclaim America.”
Other activity in Georgia included neo-Nazi group The Base, which was responsible for a propaganda incident last year. Across the Southeast, the ADL found that Patriot Front and American Identity Movement (formerly Identity Evropa) have a significant presence.
Other incidents included a swastika and cross burning in Tazewell, Tenn., by various Ku Klux Klan groups and the Nationalist Socialist Movement. There were also several events at the Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns, Tenn., with multiple groups hosting events there.
All examples of propaganda in the U.S. were posted at such places as schools, on street signs, or on posters. “The numbers that we got this year are the highest that we’ve seen since we’ve been documenting this,” Iandiorio said. The ADL counts propaganda distribution both on and off campus and found there was a substantial increase of incidents in both.
About 630 incidents were reported on college campuses, which is almost double the reported number in 2018. The incidents targeted 433 campuses in 43 states and Washington, D.C. Off-campus incidents accounted for 2,083 reported, which was a 133 percent increase from 2018. Every state except Hawaii reported at least one propaganda incident. The distribution of incidents can be found on ADL’s H.E.A.T Map on its website, which shows the type and number of various incidents across the United States.
“White supremacists see propaganda distribution – including fliering, leafleting and stickering – as a convenient and practically anonymous way to promote their messages of hate and intolerance,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release. “While we know extremists and hate groups are emboldened by the current environment, this surge in fliering and propaganda distribution powerfully demonstrates how bigots are able to spread their message without compromising their anonymity.”
About 90 percent of the year’s white supremacist propaganda activity was completed by three organizations: Patriot Front, American Identity Movement and New Jersey European Heritage Association. Other groups responsible for propaganda distributions included the Daily Stormer Book Clubs, the Ku Klux Klan, and a variety of other neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.
“I think it’s important for communities to know that they’re doing this and it doesn’t necessarily mean these people are in their communities,” Iandiorio said. Because placing propaganda is anonymous and can be done by a few individuals, it is able to be distributed across the United States, even though groups may be headquartered in other regions.
“These are groups that are trying to normalize their messaging. A lot of their messaging has to do with an idyllic white identity,” Iandiorio said. Propaganda often has a patriotic slant, using popular public discourse as a launching point to normalize their views, she said. They use topics such as anti-immigration and patriotism to couch a white supremacist ideology.
“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.
According to the ADL’s data, 66 percent of all propaganda incidents were attributed to Patriot Front. The Texas-based group uses a red, white and blue color scheme in its propaganda and included new slogans in 2019 such as “One Nation Against Invasion,” “For the Nation Against the State” and “America is Not for Sale.”
There were at least 50 incidents of Patriot Front hanging banners from buildings, overpasses or foot bridges with messages such as “Revolution is Tradition,” “Reclaim America,” and “Deport Them All,” the ADL report stated.
American Identity Movement, the new name for Identity Evropa, rebranded after the 2017 neo-Nazi and white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., which hurt its reputation, Iandiorio said. The group has shifted from European-centric messaging and imagery to propaganda promoting the preservation of America’s “white culture,” the ADL said in the report. New propaganda includes the slogans “Defend America,” “Nationalism not Globalism,” “Diversity Destroys Nations,” and “Embrace Your Identity.”
Propaganda from various groups has been placed on establishments including synagogues and multicultural centers. The propaganda itself isn’t always specifically targeting these groups with their slogans, but the placement is explicitly targeting them.
“They’re seeing propaganda is a quick and easy way for them to increase their messaging, increase fear in communities, but also to increase that first point of contact,” Iandiorio said. Distributing propaganda in public spaces using patriotic imagery is a recruitment effort to make contact with people who may not be part of a white supremacist movement but are susceptible to the messaging.
“I think the normalization of these messages, the fact that they feel emboldened. … Just this weekend we saw members of Patriot Front marching through D.C. with their flag and masks,” Iandiorio said. “These groups feel they’re in a space where they can do these things. We saw it increase over the years. I think their coordinated effort to place this propaganda in public spaces is going to continue.” Groups continue to rely on flash demonstrations, rather than pre-publicized events, the report stated.
It’s important for people to be vigilant when it comes to hate in their communities and report any instances of white supremacist propaganda to the ADL, Iandiorio said. “There are groups across the country dedicated to fighting hate.”