PA Near Top for White Supremacist Propaganda


Flyers with anti-Semitic messages in public spaces: "Small Hats BIG Problems" and "America is Under Occupation" with the letters over a Star of David
Anti-Semitic propaganda created by the New Jersey European Heritage Association | Courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League
The United States saw the most white supremacist propaganda in a decade in 2020, with thousands of flyers, bumper stickers, banners and other propaganda reported across the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL’s report, published March 12, counted 5,125 pieces of propaganda distributed by 30 white supremacist groups across 49 states in 2020. That’s almost double the number recorded in 2019.
Shira Goodman, regional director of Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia, said Pennsylvania was among the top eight states for white supremacist propaganda distribution. Incidents increased from 81 in 2019 to 238 in 2020.
Philadelphia and the surrounding region had a dramatic increase, with distribution rising in southern New Jersey and Delaware. Goodman said she has also gotten calls about propaganda in Bryn Mawr and the Lehigh Valley.
“This pattern isn’t going away,” she said.
The rise in propaganda may be attributable to the presidential campaign and election, according to the ADL. In the months leading to the vote, government officials and groups including the ADL warned repeatedly of extremist activity surrounding the election.
Those warnings came to bear with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which led to five deaths. That event, and the white supremacist groups and symbols present there, was not included in the 2020 tally as it took place in 2021.
Chart showing massive increase in white supremacist propaganda since 2017
Chart showing increase in white supremacist propaganda distribution | Courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League
But while the “charged political climate” may have been conducive to propaganda, propaganda did not significantly increase as the election neared, and much of the content of the propaganda was unchanged from previous years and did not reference the vote or COVID-19, said Jessica Reaves, the editorial director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.
“We can’t know for sure what moves the needle when it comes to propaganda numbers,” she said.
Goodman said fear and anxiety typically coincide with a rise in hate and scapegoating.
“We have the pandemic, we have economic anxiety, we have the political anxiety of the election, and all of those kind of exacerbate underlying tensions and biases and hate,” she said.
Reaves said the pandemic had a mixed effect on white supremacist propaganda efforts. COVID-19, she said, “may have slowed distribution on college campuses, while it’s possible lockdowns provided white supremacists with more cover and anonymity to post in cities and towns.”
Despite the overall increase in white supremacist propaganda, the ADL found that it dropped by more than half on campuses, to 303 last year from 630 incidents in 2019.
The report found that the two groups most active in the Greater Philadelphia area are Patriot Front and the New Jersey European Heritage Association. The former is a Texas-based white supremacist group that plays on traditional patriotic language and graphics with red, white and blue images and slogans like “Reclaim America.” Patriot Front was responsible for 80% of nationwide propaganda distribution incidents in 2020.
The latter was responsible for 508 incidents in 2020, representing 10% of the national total. Some of its materials referenced racial justice protests and the pandemic as well as conspiracy theories about Jews. “Antifa is a Jewish communist militia,” “Black Crimes Matter” and “Stop Corona Virus, Deport All Illegal Aliens, Close the Borders, Stop Immigration Now,” were among the slogans members distributed.
Other propaganda from NJEHA reads, “Small HATS BIG problems” alongside the image of a kippah and “America is under occupation,” with an image of the Star of David.
Together, these organizations accounted for 99% of the activity in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey.
Goodman said propaganda distribution incidents are tracked as clusters of activity rather than individual sticker or flyer sightings. Many of the incidents involve members of white supremacist groups placing propaganda, taking a picture of it and posting the image on social media to brag.
“It kind of is a nexus between online and offline activity that they use to recruit and to talk about what they’re doing and to get people more engaged,” she said. “But they’re very low-risk activities, because it’s generally going to be a protected activity, unless you cross the line into harassment or vandalism or trespass.”
Goodman said ADL responds to these incidents by working with local groups like Jewish Federations, houses of worship, LGBTQ centers and interfaith alliances to create statements and strategies to counter hate, including virtual town halls to inform people how to look out for violence.
The goal is to make sure people from marginalized groups who encounter this propaganda know they are supported by their communities.
“It sends the message that this is not what our community stands for, this flyer does not represent the feelings of people in the community and we’re going to try and drown out those hateful messages with better speech,” she said.
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