If it feels as though you’ve been seeing a lot more propaganda from the radical Right these days—flyers pasted onto street posts, demonstrations in the streets, memes floating up on social media—you’re not mistaken. The numbers, compiled in a new report from the Anti-Defamation League, back it up.
The ADL’s Center on Extremism, which tracks incidents of white supremacist propaganda efforts, found an increase of 182 percent in 2018 over the previous year: a total of 1,187 cases, compared to 421 in 2017.
The tracking recorded the distribution of material that “includes everything from veiled white supremacist language to explicitly racist images and words, often features a recruitment element, and frequently targets minority groups, including Jews, Blacks, Muslims, non-white immigrants and the LGBTQ community.” The methods were multifarious: Most often the delivery was by posted flyers, though other methods were also popular, including unfurling and waving freeway banners, as well as organizing “flash rallies” instead of the announced rallies that have often attracted substantial opposition.
The ADL’s study observes that such rallies have been replaced as organizing and recruitment tactics by white nationalists with more hit-and-run-style tactics that produce fewer confrontations, both with political opponents and with law enforcement. Instead, private white nationalist gatherings have proven to be far more popular with recruits, often attended by suit-and-tied bigots.
A Texas-based organization called Patriot Front has been among the most active flyering organizations. Its explicitly fascist ideology has been featured on flyers that have been plastered both on college campuses and within communities over the past year, often couched in nativist or anti-gay language.
The increase in white-supremacist propaganda is really just one of many signs of the increasing right-wing radicalism and white supremacist recruitment and radicalization that have accompanied the presidency of Donald Trump. Among these indicators is a significant increase in hate crimes over the past three years, as well as record numbers of hate groups in the United States.
ADL analyst Mark Pitcavage noted on Twitter that the flyering tactic has gained in popularity in part because it is an easy way for hate groups to obtain free publicity, since these efforts are so often reported by both police and the media. “The tactic has been going on for years, and we've monitored it,” he wrote, “but it was only with the rise of the alt-right [that it] became popular—especially once they hit on the idea of college campuses.”
Pitcavage particularly observed the “alarming” increase in propaganda distribution as an indicator of the spread of white supremacist ideology: “That’s not a movement in decline,” he noted.