In 2020, New Jersey and Pennsylvania experienced two of the highest levels of distribution of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ propaganda in the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
The materials work as recruitment tools for the white supremacist groups that distribute them and create a sense of fear and division in communities, according to the ADL.
For the past several years, the ADL has tracked the distribution of these materials, which can include flyers, stickers, posters, and banners, as a way to follow the growth of these groups.
For New Jersey, as well as Pennsylvania, 2020 also marked the fourth year of significant increases in these incidents, which reached their highest levels since the ADL began recording them in 2016.
The Garden State ranked fourth in the country, with 323 recorded incidents of white supremacist propaganda distribution, up from 147 incidents in 2019, a 120% increase.
“The rise in hateful propaganda in New Jersey from 12 incidents in 2017 to a record 323 incidents in 2020 is truly shocking, far outpacing almost any other region of the country,” said Scott Richman, regional director for ADL New York/New Jersey Region.
Piscataway, Princeton, and New Brunswick recorded 9, 16, and 22 incidents, respectively — some of the highest numbers across the state. These municipalities are also homes to college campuses, spaces white supremacists have been increasingly targeting. Messages on these materials included “Just say ‘No’ to [Zionist Occupied Government]” and “Better dead than red.”
Pennsylvania ranked eighth in white supremacist propaganda distribution, which nearly tripled year-over-year from 81 recorded incidents in 2019 to 238 in 2020.
“I think that they do it because it is low-risk activity,” explained Shira Goodman, regional director of ADL Philadelphia, which also covers South Jersey and Delaware. “So it’s generally, unless you’re getting to the point of vandalism or harassment or trespass, probably going to be First Amendment-protected activity.“
What’s more, while the cost of going to a professional printer or producing batches of flyers at home is generally low-cost, the impact can be high, she said.
Goodman said groups will often place these materials where they’ll be visible, though they’re not always obvious.
For example, the LGBT Center of Greater Reading received one of these white supremacist flyers in May of last year. One staff member described it as “an act of intimidation,” which she wouldn’t have recognized without performing a Google search for the organization’s name.
Still, the community response in Reading following the incident is why Goodman says the ADL tracks and makes this information public as a way to “drown out” the propaganda.
After the news broke of the flyer, nearly 70 organizations in Reading offered a groundswell of support, which included workshops on how to fight hate in the region.
“We’ve tried to have people not hide it and not be ashamed of what’s happened to them, but to own it and to give their neighbors and friends and colleagues the opportunity to stand up to them,” said Goodman.
Tracking these incidents also helps the ADL figure out who is recruiting for their cause and where they’re conducting outreach efforts, Goodman said. In 2020 for example, three groups accounted for 92% of all propaganda incidents nationwide. One of them was the New Jersey European Heritage Association, which the ADL considers an “alt-right” group.
In Philadelphia last year, the New Jersey-based group distributed propaganda with the message “America is under occupation” superimposed on a star of David. Other messages spread by the group read “600+ Jewish groups support BLM terrorists” and “There is a war on whites.”
According to Goodman, it’s important to look at the propaganda distribution numbers through a broader context that also examines the rise of hate crimes in the country.
“I think taking that all in that context, we’re seeing a several year period of where people who espouse these hateful views and biased beliefs are emboldened to act out in many different ways,” she said, “from just expressing them, from wearing a t-shirt, waving a flag, putting out a piece of paper or a sticker or a banner to violence.”
If you have experienced or witnessed an incident of bias, hatred, or bigotry, you can report it to the ADL online.
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