Incidents of white supremacist propaganda hit an all-time high in 2020, according to the report. Anti-Semitic, racist and anti-LGBTQ+ posters, flyers and graffiti were recorded 5,125 times in 2020, according to the report, almost twice the number of incidents recorded in 2019.
The ADL’s Center on Extremism (CE) has tracked racist propaganda for decades.
The report, released a few days ago, 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-Semitc language or propaganda that specifically targeted Jewish institutions, a 68% increase from 2019.
Oren Segal, vice president of the CE, said the increased propaganda is another indication of how divided America has become.
“As if a pandemic, social justice protests and a polarizing election were not enough, one of the other things we have been dealing with is a significant increase in efforts by white supremacists to spread their messages around the country,” Segal said. “What the numbers suggest is a doubling down on what they view as a successful tactic.”
30 white supremacist groups
At least 30 different white supremacist groups distributed flyers, put up posters or graffitied public and private spaces last year, the report says. The messaging varied from overt neo-Nazi propaganda to coded language that disguised white supremacist messaging inside expressions of patriotism and nationalism.
Three organizations were responsible for more than 90% of the propaganda incidents. 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.
The @PatriotFrontOfficial Channel on the secure messaging app Telegram also regularly posts openly racist and anti-Semitic messages, and documenting the group’s acts of white supremacist vandalism.
Sarah Vinson, a forensic psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine, said white supremacist propaganda has a dual impact on the 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 do not know who is tolerating that,” Vinson said. “White people who harbor those beliefs may also find those signs validating and reassuring.”
Using social media
In recent years, white supremacists have increasingly gathered online using social media, message boards and chatrooms. It may seem surprising to see such a spike in old-school techniques like putting up posters and distributing flyers.
Segal said the increase in propaganda is not an alternative to online activity, but a reflection of how technology is helping white supremacist views propagate.
“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.”
Hate groups and hate crimes increase
The increase in white supremacist propaganda mirrors an overall national increase in both the number of hate groups in the U.S. and hate crimes over the last few years.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual audit of hate groups showed a slight dip in the number of groups counted in 2020 from 2019. Experts were quick to point out that the number of hate groups remains high by historical standards.
The most recent statistics on hate crimes from the FBI, a tally that is deeply flawed but offers some historical perspective, suggested fatal hate crimes rising to record levels in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.
More recently, there has been a surge in hate crimes toward Asian Americans, stemming from racist tropes about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hate crimes against Asian Americans rose almost 150% in 2020 in a study of America’s 16 largest cities by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
During one of the most politically divisive years in recent memory, far-right extremists migrated further to online networks, leading to a decline in active hate groups last year.
Another report released this week by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization, assessed social media platforms’ policies for targeting hate online.
It concluded that not one of the major platforms should receive an A grade.
The report criticizes social media companies for being too slow, and too selective, in tackling white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-immigrant content.
“It is worrisome to see us moving in the wrong direction at this juncture in history,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who has led the center’s digital terrorism and hate project for nearly three decades. “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.”
The report gave the “Big 5” tech platforms – Facebook/Instagram, Twitter and YouTube/Google – all B-minus grades. Telegram, which has seen a surge of new users who were kicked off Facebook and Twitter, got a D-minus grade. White supremacists’ favorite social media site, Gab, got an F.
Asian-Americans face racist attacks
For more than a year, Asian Americans across the country have faced an alarming deluge of racist attacks, and it shows no signs of abating.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic transformed every facet of American life a year ago, Asian American communities were already seeing the effects of the virus, which was first detected in China and began to spread in January 2020.
By then, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander individuals had started to experience racist harassment and attacks, such as being shunned, spit upon and denied services. Asian-owned businesses saw a precipitous drop in revenue and patronage.
Last March, several AAPI advocacy organizations and scholars formed a group called Stop AAPI Hate to create a database of reports of these incidents. As of February 28, the group had received a staggering 3,795 reports of racist incidents against AAPIs, according to data released Tuesday. That includes 503 incidents in 2021. The last few weeks have brought a wave of high-profile incidents, including several violent assaults of Asian American elders that resulted in deaths.
The incident reports come from respondents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The data is likely an undercount because the incidents are self-reported.
While the current wave of racism is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is one chapter of a long history of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans. In the 19th century, Asian immigrants to the U.S. were deemed “the yellow peril” and branded as filthy disease carriers — not unlike the racist rhetoric and tropes fueling the current wave. In addition, Asian American individuals are often targeted because of the model minority myth, which reinforces the racist stereotype and false impression that AAPIs are silent and invisible and will not speak up or fight back.
According to the group’s new data, verbal harassment is the most common kind of incident, making up 68% of the reports. Nearly 21% of the incidents involved the assailant shunning an Asian American person, and 11% involved physical assault.
Like many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, women bear the brunt. Stop AAPI Hate found that Asian women reported a disproportionate amount of the incidents. Children and seniors were also likely to be disproportionately targeted.
In an incident report, a respondent from Boston wrote: “I received a random email message from someone I don’t know telling me to go back to China, blaming me for Chinese politics, calling Chinese ‘heartless robots’ and telling me America doesn’t need me to be part of the workforce.”
Another respondent from the Washington, D.C., area reported that she and her boyfriend were attacked on public transportation.
“When on the escalator in the transfer station, a man repeatedly punched my back and pushed past us. At the top, he circled back toward us, followed us, repeatedly shouted ‘Chinese bitch’ at me, fake coughed at, and physically threatened us,” she wrote in her incident report. “A few days later, we saw a news story about how the owner of Valley Brook Tea in DC was harassed and pepper sprayed by the same man, calling him ‘Covid-19’ repeatedly.”
A respondent in the San Francisco Bay Area wrote that while shopping at a store, a man “started making faces at me” and asked: “‘When do you ship out? When do you ship out? We are going to take away your citizenship!’”
According to a February 2021 report from Stop AAPI Hate, a group that is dedicated to collecting data and raising awareness about hate crimes against AAPI communities, these hate crimes were reported across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with businesses being the primary location for Asian-related hate crimes to occur.
The Stop AAPI Hate report includes anonymous victim testimony from verbal and physical assaults that occurred throughout the last year. Assailants used both racial and gender-based slurs, blamed their victims for the COVID-19 pandemic, and in many cases, coughed on them.
“There is an intersectional dynamic going on that others may perceive both Asians and women and Asian women as easier targets,” San Francisco State University Professor of Asian-American studies Russell Jeung, told NBC News. Jeung, who co-founded Stop AAPI Hate, believes that racism, sexism, and the stereotypical idea that Asian women are subservient and weak, contributes to the higher percentage of women-reported hate crimes.
Throughout 2020, former President Donald Trump fueled the hatred, repeatedly referring to the pandemic using racial slurs and fearmongering against Asian Americans to deflect blame from his own administration’s shambolic response to the pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate and other Asian American advocacy groups have urged Biden and lawmakers to take more concrete steps, including establishing more concerted federal, state and local efforts to investigate incidents of anti-Asian racism, expanding civil rights protections, passing legislation that would address some of these issues and better engaging AAPI community leaders.
Massacre in Atlanta
On the night on March 16, eight people were shot and killed at three Asian massage parlors around Atlanta, six of whom were Asian and all but one were women.
Atlanta police chief Rodney Bryant said three people were killed at a spa in northeast Atlanta, while a fourth person was killed at another spa across the street. All four victims were female, and that “it appears that they may be Asian,” he said.
Four other people, including two Asian women, were killed at a massage parlor in nearby Cherokee County, Sheriff’s officials were quoted as saying by The Washington Post.
A 21-year-old man suspected of carrying out the attacks has been arrested in southwest Georgia.
The shootings came amid a rise in attacks against Asians after the Covid-19 outbreak in the US.
Though it is currently unclear if this attack was racially motivated, these victims are now part of an alarmingly fast-growing statistic that has been on the rise since March of 2020 — nearly 3,800 reports of hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. were documented between March 2020 and February 2021 with over 500 of these hate crimes occurring in 2021 alone. That is a massive jump from the 2,800 hate crimes reported in 2019.
Though racism against Asians in the U.S. is not in any way a new phenomenon, this influx of AAPI-targeted hate crimes no doubt stems from the racist rhetoric used by Former President Donald Trump when he spoke about the coronavirus pandemic. Because the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, Trump often referred to it as “the China virus” and even more offensively as “the kung flu.”
NYPD increases patrols in Asian communities in reaction to Atlanta massacre and rising hate crime
The New York Police Department has deployed officers to Asian communities around the city after eight people were killed in shootings in Atlanta.
The NYPD’s counter terrorism bureau separately tweeted that while there was no known nexus to New York City, they will deploy assets to Asian communities across the city “out of an abundance of caution.”
Hispanic lawmakers press Pentagon on extremism in the military
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is urging Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to prevent the enlistment of individuals in the military with ties to white supremacist ideologies or groups, according to a letter sent to the Pentagon on Tuesday that was exclusively obtained by CBS News.
The group requested a meeting with Austin by the end of April to discuss the issue.
“As members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, we write to express our concerns about extremism within the United States military, especially white supremacy, and right-wing radicalism within the ranks,” the letter states.
The lawmakers point to the involvement of violent extremists during the January 6 insurrection at the U.S Capitol. A CBS News analysis found authorities connected at least 48 alleged rioters to extremist groups while at least 36 of those arrested are current and former military members.
“Our military should not be a training ground for white supremacists to execute the goals related to their extreme violent beliefs,” the group wrote.
Caucus members also said Defense Department instructions that “prohibit military personnel from actively advocating for and participating in supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine” are insufficient. They cite a 2019 survey by the Military Times and Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families that found approximately one-third of active duty troops said they have “personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks”.
In the letter, the Hispanic Caucus applauded Austin’s recent service-wide order to “stand down” over a 60-day period to allow leaders within each branch of the armed forces to hold discussions on extremism. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby called it an “initial step” to address the issue.
“The events of January 6 served as a wake-up call for this Department. It certainly served as such for the Secretary” Kirby told reporters last month.
Austin, who is the first African-American Defense Secretary in U.S history, has made combating extremism a priority. During his confirmation hearing in January, the retired four-star general told the Senate Armed Services Committee he would work with service leaders to set the “right climate.”
“The activity that we have seen recently in terms of potential racist or extremist behavior within our ranks is in my view unacceptable,” Austin testified. “This is not something we can be passive on.”
The caucus touted provisions in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to track and report white supremacist and extremist activities by service members and said it hoped to work with Austin and the White House to restore other measures that were stripped from the legislation in the last Congress.
The letter was signed by caucus leaders including Chair Raul Ruiz and Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán, Adriano Espaillat, Darren Soto and Teresa Leger Fernández.