White supremacist propaganda distribution surged across the United States in 2020, with a total 5,125 cases of racist, antisemitic and other hateful messages reported by ADL (Anti-Defamation League). Last year marked the highest level of incidents reported since ADL began tracking such data – an average of about 14 incidents per day, and nearly double the 2,724 cases reported in 2019.
ADL’s Center on Extremism (COE) tracked the distribution of racist, antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, posters and banners by various members of far right and white supremacist groups. The annual report found that at least 30 known white supremacist groups were behind hate propaganda efforts, affecting 49 states in 2020.
“Hate propaganda is a tried-and-true tactic for white supremacists, and this on the ground activity is now higher than we’ve ever previously recorded,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “White supremacists appear to be more emboldened than ever, and the election year, the pandemic and other factors may have provided these extremists with additional encouragement.”
In 2020, hate propaganda appeared in every state except Hawaii, with the highest levels of activity in Texas (574), Washington (345), California (333), New Jersey (323), New York (308), Massachusetts (276), Virginia (249), and Pennsylvania (238). ADL’s H.E.A.T. Map provides a visual representation of the propaganda distribution efforts by geographic location and can be used to highlight other specific trends.
Some key data points from the report:
- Throughout 2020, at least 30 white supremacist groups distributed propaganda, but three groups — Patriot Front, New Jersey European Heritage Association and Nationalist Social Club — were responsible for 92 percent of the activity. The Texas-based Patriot Front, a white supremacist hate group that espouses antisemitism and racism, was responsible for 4,105 of the incidents, or 80 percent of all propaganda incidents nationwide.
- ADL recorded 283 incidents that included antisemitic language or specifically targeted Jewish institutions, marking a 68 percent increase from 2019.
- There were at least 130 incidents of white supremacist banner drops, a significant increase from the 53 recorded in 2019.
- In 2020, ADL documented 56 white supremacist events, a 26 percent decrease from the 76 events in 2019. More than half of the events (29) were privately planned, unannounced flash demonstrations orchestrated for quick photo and video opportunities that are then used to create online content. The largest white supremacist event in 2020 involved approximately 100 Patriot Front members in a February flash demonstration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
- There were 303 incidents of white supremacist propaganda distribution on college campuses, marking a steep decline from 630 in 2019. No large campaigns focused on campuses this year, most likely because of the pandemic and a lack of students on physical campuses.
“Propaganda gives white supremacists the ability to maximize media and online attention while limiting their risk of exposure or arrest,” said Oren Segal, VP of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “The literature helps to bolster recruitment efforts and spreads fear by targeting specific groups, including the Jewish, Black, Muslim and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as non-white immigrants.”
In response to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists and the overall increase in domestic terrorism in recent years, ADL recently announced the PROTECT Plan to mitigate this threat while protecting civil liberties.