“Coordinated at a higher level”: White supremacist propaganda soared to all-time high last year

The Anti-Defamation League recorded the highest number of white supremacist propaganda incidents in 2022, according to a new report released last week. 

The number of incidents increased by 38% from the previous year, with a total of 6,751 cases reported last year, compared to 4,876 in 2021, ADL’s Center on Extremism found. 

Similarly, the number of groups involved in incidents last year also increased, rising from 38 different groups to 50, said Carla Hill, Director of Investigative Research with ADL Center on Extremism.

At least three networks, including Patriot Front, Goyim Defense League (GDL) and White Lives Matter (WLM) were responsible for 93% of the activity, she added. 

“So what we’re seeing is a lot of overlap,” Hill told Salon. “We’ll see propaganda distributed together from two different sources, so that really demonstrates how they’re networking and overlapping across the country.”

The groups use different tools to spread propaganda, varying from graffiti, posters, stickers, and banners to even yard signs and laser projections. The propaganda is then promoted online after members share messages on social media with the purpose of spreading fear.

“It’s to sow anxiety and fear within these communities and make them feel like this movement is even bigger than it is and to mainstream that message,” Hill said. “Repeat, repeat, repeat until people aren’t as offended by it anymore [since] they’ve heard it 6000 times.”

Patriot Front, which has led propaganda efforts for several years, uses inundation as a method to spread their message, Hill added. But their technique is to use soft messaging to push out extremist rhetoric in a way that is easily digestible, like including a link in their material, which leads people to a white supremacist website.

Other groups like GDL use explicit propaganda and release antisemitic messages. The network gets attention from just how visceral its messaging is and how they use antisemitism as a tool for entertainment, Hill noted.

“They think it’s funny that it upsets people and puts fear in these communities and they share that humor online,” Hill said. “It’s attracting more people. The leader of that group really uses that as a tool to recruit more.”

The report found that GDL had a significant crossover with other white supremacist groups and movements, and was responsible for at least 492 propaganda incidents in 2022.

Antisemitic propaganda more than doubled last year, rising from 352 incidents in 2021 to 852 incidents in 2022.

“Each group has their own decision on optics, and within the white supremacist movement, this is always a debate, ‘do we go hard and very vocal and specific, or do we soften it to try to get people on the fence to come over to our side,'” Hill said.

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Outside of these two different methods to recruit new members, there are also groups like White Lives Matter, which initially formed as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement to promote “the white race”. But the group attracted more and more extremists, who distributed antisemitic propaganda with swastikas.

The different types of propaganda have similar underlying messages though, said Jill Garvey, chief of staff at Western States Center.

“It’s all couched in this idea that there is some great controlling evil factor involved,” Garvey told Salon. “It’s usually narrated as an ‘all-powerful Jewish cabal’ that’s controlling media, entertainment, information and politics.”

Groups have become more coordinated over time, she added, pointing to Patriot Front — the Texas-based group responsible for roughly 80% of all propaganda incidents nationally.

Texas led the nation in white supremacist propaganda incidents last year, accounting for 527 of the 6,750 incidents tallied by the ADL in 2022 — a 61% increase statewide and a 38% jump nationally since 2021.

Patriot Front was most active in ​​Massachusetts, Texas, Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Utah.

The group has a mandate to spread a certain amount of propaganda, which explains the numbers, Hill said. Unlike other groups that function more as networks to spread hateful messaging where anyone can amplify their information, Patriot Front also has members.

The group was responsible for 26 events last year, including four of the largest flash demonstrations, consisting of marches in Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston and Indianapolis. Patriot Front also protested LGBTQ+ events in Texas and Ohio. 

In June, 31 members of Patriot Front were arrested near Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, after police stopped a U-Haul truck near a “Pride in the Park” event and found members dressed uniformly and equipped with riot shields. They were charged with criminal conspiracy to riot.

Seventeen organizations sent a letter to the Department of Justice after the event, asking for federal intervention into Patriot Front’s coordinated plan to disrupt Pride in the Park. The letter pointed out that authorities were only able to step in after “a concerned community member alerted local law enforcement about a ‘little army’ of masked men”.

But the department didn’t inform them that they would launch an investigation, which would have served as “a good motivator” for local authorities to take these issues seriously, Garvey said.

She pointed out that local jurisdictions often lack the resources or the means to hold extremist groups accountable.

“Just as Patriot Front is coordinated at a higher level, these localities are not coordinated at a higher level,” Garvey said. “Even if the laws are on their side to prosecute these crimes, they may not really understand how to do it or be incentivized to do it.”

Beyond law enforcement and criminal investigations that can hold these groups accountable, it is also necessary for civic leaders and institutions to respond to the spread of white supremacist propaganda, Garvey said.

“Having a comprehensive coordinated response among elected officials and other civic leaders is the very best way to show a community that it doesn’t have to be intimidated and terrorized, and it is the fastest way to get agitators to back down,” Garvey said.

This is important as extremist groups are growing and becoming “coordinated a much higher level than people realize,” she added, pointing to resources Western States Center has to offer for civic leaders and toolkits for addressing white nationalism in schools and libraries.

“There is more sort of decentralized networking happening along these groups,” Garvey said. “That’s certainly a trend we’ve seen and it makes this activity a little bit more dangerous.”

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