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Maryland, Virginia in top ten of white supremacist propaganda cases in 2020, amid national surge

The Anti-Defamation League said hateful messages increased ten-fold from 2017 to 2020 across the country.

WASHINGTON — The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports 5,125 cases of racist, anti-Semitic and other hateful messages last year, marking a tenfold increase from 2017. Maryland ranks 10th in the country, while Virginia sits at seventh, in terms of the number of incidents recorded.

"Last year, was a really divisive, divisive year, with the election. And there were accusations of a stolen election, there were a lot of people who, you know, were floating around in online conspiracy theories. And they felt emboldened from some of the far-right domestic extremists, which a lot of these groups that we're seeing the propaganda come from," Senior Associate Regional Director for the ADL D.C. region, Meredith Weisel said. 

The ADL shared the following breakdown of case increases from 2019 to 2020 in D.C., Maryland and Virginia: 

  • DC increased from 19 incidents in 2019 to 30 in 2020
  • MD increased from 59 incidents in 2019 to 163 in 2020
  • VA increased from 138 incidents in 2019 to 249 in 2020

The D.C. region was home to hundreds of white supremacist propaganda cases in 2020, while the country saw more hateful messages than ever before, according to the ADL.

Weisel said even though D.C.'s numbers were lower than Maryland and Virginia's, the largest white supremacist event that happened in the entire country in 2020 took place in the District. She said about 100 members of the Patriot Front (classified by the ADL as a white supremacist group whose members maintain that their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it solely to them) staged a flash mob in February on the National Mall and left leaflets throughout D.C. as they marched.

She said the ADL tracks this data through a number of channels — public reports, social media posts, news stories, law enforcement data, and community members reporting to their regional offices.

RELATED: GW report analyzes backgrounds of Jan. 6 insurrectionists, shows extremism is a growing threat

Weisel said there are multiple types of messages that classify as white supremacist propaganda: information, flyers, posters, stickers, leaflets left on the ground.

She said much of the messaging has a patriotic tone — with the goal being to normalize white supremacy, bolster recruitment, and spread fear. The targets are mainly minority groups, including Jewish, Black, Muslim, LGBTQ+, nonwhite immigrants, and Asian American Pacific Islanders, she said.

"Some of the groups are using veiled language for things like 'America first,' 'united we stand,' 'better than red,' and 'reclaim America," she said. "It's ambiguous phrases. So they're avoiding what you would call traditional white supremacists, language, and symbols."

This year, WUSA 9 has reported on multiple incidents throughout the D.C. metropolitan region. Last summer, Loudoun County Police arrested a man for carving KKK and swastikas into at least 30 vehicles in Leesburg. 

In July, Arlington Police reported multiple discoveries of racist stickers plastered throughout the county — showing images of KKK members with the slogan, "The Original Boys in the Hood."

"It gives them an ability to maximize media and online attention while limiting the risk of their individual exposure," Weisel said.

Credit: WVEC
KKK posters and flyers have been seen in different parts of Virginia over the last week.

Community reporting is critical, Weisel said, because it allows law enforcement to determine if there's a pattern emerging or a specific region where they need to focus their efforts.

In some cases, these propaganda incidents can be pursued as hate crimes, she said. If there's graffiti on a building, that involves a crime, but she said leaving racist leaflets on the ground can't be pursued as a crime legally.

"We're working together, you know, our center of extremism with our regional offices to really see what's going on in the community, to try and figure out ways to stop it or to at least speak out against it," she said.

Weisel said the ADL has released a seven-part "PROTECT" plan to combat this white supremacist messaging and domestic terrorism:

Prioritize Preventing and Countering Domestic Terrorism
Resource According to the Threat
Oppose Extremists in Government Service
Take Domestic Terrorism Prevention Measures
End the Complicity of Social Media in Facilitating Extremism
Create an Independent Clearinghouse for Online Extremist Content
Target Foreign White Supremacist Terrorist Groups

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