Large-scale white supremacist rallies, like the deadly 2017 gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, have become more rare over the past few years. But that doesn't mean the racism and anti-Semitism that fueled those gatherings has abated.
In fact, the opposite may be true. Rather than expose themselves to the consequences of their actions — consequences that range from public ridicule to arrest — hate groups are increasingly hiding behind a veil of anonymity when pushing their agenda.
Now, white supremacists are more likely to use propaganda — leaflets, posters, stickers and the like — left in public places under cover of darkness to spread their message. And thankfully, they are being called out on it more than ever before.
A report released earlier this week by the Anti-Defamation League found that incidents of such propaganda more than doubled from 2018 to 2019. Nationwide, there were 2,713 cases of white supremacist literature distribution in 2019, compared to 1,214 the year before.
“After Charlottesville, white supremacist organizations were left reeling and splintered organizationally by adverse publicity, doxxing and legal woes,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, told The New York Times. “Pamphlets and stickers represent the biggest little bang for the buck, enabling them to stir the pot somewhat, but with little risk of arrest.”
And while we like to think of ourselves as enlightened here in Massachusetts, the numbers tell a different story. There were nearly 150 reports of racist or anti-Semitic propaganda reported in the Bay State in 2019. That's a more than 300 percent increase from the 35 reported in 2018.
If there is a sliver of optimism to be had, it is that researchers think the increase in reports can be at least partially attributed to a lack of tolerance on the part of the public. In past years, a racist flyer or poster was often simply ripped to shreds and tossed in the trash. Now, more incidents are being recorded and tracked.
"By injecting a barrage of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ flyers, stickers, banners and posters into the public square and on campus, white supremacists are attempting to normalize their messages of bigotry and to bolster recruitment," said Robert Trestan, New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, "all while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, never having to face the consequences of their hate and intolerance."
So yes, the racist and anti-Semitic propaganda is troubling. But the fact that people are more willing to call it what it is is cause for hope.