Just when you thought the flood of white-supremacist propaganda into the mainstream couldn’t get any worse, it did. The Anti-Defamation League last week reported that incidents involving the spread of hateful materials—”including the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters”—more than doubled in 2019, shortly on the heels of a similarly sharp increase in such cases in 2018.
Noting that the propaganda increase could be found in every state except Hawaii, the report explained: “The barrage of propaganda, which overwhelmingly features veiled white supremacist language with a patriotic slant, is an effort to normalize white supremacists’ message and bolster recruitment efforts while targeting minority groups including Jews, Blacks, Muslims, non-white immigrants and the LGBTQ community.”
Some of the more prolific of the groups spreading fascist propaganda have leveraged the ensuing recruitment gains into real-world organizing, most notably Patriot Front. That neo-Nazi group—which uses fliers to announce its presence in cities around the nation—recently held a march down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., featuring over a hundred masked recruits.
Last year, the ADL reported a 182% increase in propaganda cases for 2018, with 1,187 cases, compared to 421 the year before. For 2019, it recorded 2,713 cases, well over twice the previous year’s total.
Much of the increase in propaganda for white supremacists is a kind of diversionary response to the problems that befell the movement after the violent Charlottesville, Virginia, “Unite the Right” protests in August 2017 that killed a woman. Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State-Santa Barbara told The New York Times that many white supremacists shifted their organizing to more “underground” activities where they were less exposed.
“After Charlottesville, white supremacist organizations were left reeling and splintered organizationally by adverse publicity, doxxing and legal woes,” Levin said, adding: “Pamphlets and stickers represent the biggest little bang for the buck, enabling them to stir the pot somewhat, but with little risk of arrest.”
The ADL’s Oren Segal explained to Now This News how these campaigns have had some success, particularly by targeting a young white male audience. “The propaganda that is distributed by white supremacists has a range of ideas, and narratives, and tactics to spread the message,” Segal said. “For some, it’s the sort of tried-and-true racism, anti-Semitism, blatant symbols that are used, of hate on their fliers. But for a large portion of the propaganda that we see, it talks about issues that some might not connect directly with white supremacist narratives and ideas: ‘Reclaim your country!’ You know, empowering messages that at first blush might not seem to be white supremacist at all—not explicit to ‘go and hurt somebody,’ or, you know, ‘We are proud neo-Nazis,’ but it’s almost a repackaging of these hateful messages. This is their narrative. But they’re not just targeting those communities to create fear. They’re targeting young white men as well, because they want those messages to seep in, to influence them.”
One of the report’s key findings was that college campuses in particular are where many of these propaganda campaigns are focused, seeking an audience with males who are discontented with liberal “political correctness” common in academic culture. About one-fourth of all the propaganda incidents the ADL recorded occurred in college settings, again a doubling of the 2018 count.
“College campuses are sort of these bastions of diversity, multiculturalism, and that is exactly what white supremacists fear and hate,” Segal told Now This. “They oppose liberalism, they oppose the sort of PC culture, as they describe it. And so they want to take their message to those who exist in those spaces who may also actually feel that perhaps PC culture has run amok.
“Now, there are those who feel that who are not necessarily white supremacists. But white supremacists want to drive a wedge in that discussion about speech, about diversity. And again, even if only one or two people are attracted to that message, for them, that’s a victory.”