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‘Inundated with antisemites’: White supremacists are flooding the propaganda marketplace

While the amount of propaganda skyrocketed, in most areas of the U.S. it’s ‘a small number of people that’s doing a lot’

The amount of white supremacist propaganda handed out in the United States skyrocketed in 2022, according to a new Anti-Defamation League report, but the tactic has little to do with recruitment. 

The report, released Thursday, examined white supremacist literature that was handed out in general, as well as antisemitic propaganda specifically. The ADL found 6,751 incidents of white supremacist propaganda, a 38% increase from the previous year and the highest number since the ADL began tracking it.

Antisemitic propaganda incidents more than doubled, from 352 incidents in 2021 to 852.

While white supremacist groups have seen a boost to membership in recent years, the propaganda is aimed more at intimidating minority communities such as Jews, rather than inviting new recruits, said ADL director of investigative research Carla Hill. The report lists Florida, California, New York and Illinois as among the states with the highest number of incidents. But the number of incidents doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual size of the white supremacist movement in that area.

“It’s a small number of people that’s doing a lot. They’re extremely motivated to do this,” said Hill. “One person can literally make a town feel like it’s inundated with antisemites.”

The report identified over 50 different organizations distributing white supremacist propaganda, many of them small upstarts. But several of the groups have grown to become significant players in the hate field, including the Goyim Defense League, which has amassed a sizable following on the Telegram messaging app and pulled high-profile stunts such as projecting antisemitic messages onto the sides of notable buildings in Florida. The GDL accounted for 492 antisemitic incidents in 2022, making up 58% of antisemitic propaganda incidents in the U.S., occurring in 43 different states, which included spreading antisemitic myths and conspiracy theories.

Hill said the surge in GDL activity, which perpetrated only 74 incidents in 2021, was largely due to tactics pioneered by founder Jon Minadeo Jr., who called for a start to monthly propaganda campaigns in December 2021. Aside from the projections, Minadeo has become notorious for actions such as posing in front of Auschwitz, which Hill said has turned antisemitism “into a form of entertainment.” 

“He would tell followers to distribute propaganda and over time, the network really bought into this notion. They started trying to make sure they had propaganda distribution in every state. It’s all intended to give the feeling they are everywhere, that antisemitism is rampant all over the country.”

While overall incidents are up, white supremacist propaganda has declined on college campuses to the lowest levels since the ADL began tracking the data in 2017. Hill attributed this to the waning fortunes of the alt-right, a white supremacy-adjacent movement that gained popularity through figures like Milo Yiannopoulos but has since faded in influence, as well as more stringent security measures by school officials. 

Hill said it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from the report’s statistics, saying they are “just really one data point” in tracking how white supremacy continues to evolve in the U.S. Still, all indicators are that groups such as the GDL are attracting new members and are “committed to the use of propaganda to spread and share their views.”

While many of the white supremacy movement’s leaders have been careful to tell followers to not violate laws, including when disseminating their flyers, Hill said that the language of the propaganda, no matter how hateful, doesn’t measure up to the discourse found in online gathering places like Telegram.

“We know their rhetoric is more extreme in those places than that forward-facing rhetoric where they say they’re nonviolent activists. If you watch some of Jon Minadeo’s podcasts, he says things like we’re going to kick the Jews out of the country, fire up the ovens. You can’t possibly know who is listening to that and how it may influence them to do something worse than distribute propaganda.”

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