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White Supremacist Propaganda More Than Doubled In 2019, ADL Reports


White supremacist propaganda is not just spreading across the country; it is growing, and it's hitting college campuses at alarming rates. This is according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League. It tracked more than 2,700 cases last year, the most the organization has recorded in a single year. The material includes statements like reclaim America and one nation against invasion. Oren Segal is vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism and joins me. Thanks for coming and joining us on the program.

OREN SEGAL: Good morning.

GREENE: So just to clarify, when we say cases of propaganda, are we talking about things online? Or what exactly is the definition?

SEGAL: Specifically, we're talking about flyers, stickers, actual materials that are then posted either in the public square, on college campuses, sometimes on mosques or synagogues. So it's actually information that is delivered in real life.

GREENE: So your report highlights a 120% jump last year from 2018 when it comes to this propaganda. What do you attribute this spike to?

SEGAL: Part of the spike is attributable to the fact that white supremacist events are actually down a bit, about 20 less than the previous year. White supremacists want to be able to amplify their message, glorify their hate, but some of them actually don't want to be seen or discovered. And so propaganda enables people to have a wide reach, create anxiety and fear in a community without necessarily having to put their actual face and name behind it.

GREENE: This is interesting because, you know, we've talked about the last few years - you know, some suggest that there's been a growth in some of these groups. What over the last year would you say has cause people to want to sort of hide and not organize and use this kind of propaganda instead?

SEGAL: Well, again, I think there's more sort of bang for the buck. These are not, you know, flyers for piano lessons; these are fliers for hate, for narratives that underscore and motivate violent groups. And so there is a risk by being out there if you support that. It's also really cheap and easy. You know, 2,700 of these flyers doesn't mean that there's 2,700 individuals who did it, but it means that these groups are trying to show that they have a much broader reach, perhaps, than their numbers would suggest.

GREENE: So I'm struck that a quarter of this propaganda you found was distributed on college campuses. What do you make of that? I mean, is there evidence that these kinds of messages are attracting college students?

SEGAL: Well, you know, for the 630 incidents, we know that that occurred on 433 separate campuses. So in many cases, it was maybe one or two times on a campus, which suggests that there may be somebody who is not necessarily there. But here's the point of this propaganda - it's to create fear and anxiety in communities, it's to reach and maybe radicalize individuals, and it's the starting point of a broader movement's efforts.

Just this past weekend in Washington, D.C., we saw 100 some odd white supremacists associated with the group Patriot Front march in Washington, D.C. And Patriot Front is the group that is responsible for about 66% of these incidents. And so when we're looking at the impact of propaganda - whether it's in schools, whether it's in the public square - we need to remember that this is the narrative that starts in terms of outreach, but it can lead to much broader consequences.

GREENE: All right. Oren Segal is vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

SEGAL: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.