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White supremacist propaganda nearly doubled in 2020. How can Americans counter it?

As the nation deals with the aftermath of this week's shootings in Atlanta that killed eight, including six Asian American women, a troubling new report from the Anti-Defamation League shows white supremacist propaganda, including racist, anti-semitic and anti-LGBTQ material, nearly doubled in 2020. Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the organization joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As many mourn the killings in Georgia, a troubling new report casts a wider lens on the growth and dissemination of hateful speech around the country.

    Amna Nawaz looks at the alarming levels it is reaching.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    That report from the Anti-Defamation League shows the amount of white supremacist propaganda nearly doubled in the last year. That included racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters.

    The report noted more than 5,000 incidents, or over 14 a day. Cases were found in every state, with the exception of Hawaii. And at least 30 groups distributed this kind material, but three groups were responsible for more than 90 percent of it.

    For more on this, we're joined by the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt.

    Jonathan, welcome back to the "NewsHour," and thank you for being here.

    When we're talking about this distribution of propaganda, where is it going? Where is it being displayed? How is it being delivered? And, also, why this increase in numbers now?

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    Well, a few things,.

    First of all, this — what's so ugly about this moment in time and this did what we uncovered with this report is that these stickers, these flyers, these posters, these leaflets, they didn't show up in the dark recesses, a place where you wouldn't find it.

    They show up in very public spots, in college towns, in coffee shops, on Main Street, which is exactly the intent of the extremists who drop this propaganda. What they want to do is to find ways to get their message out to the masses and terrorize people from marginalized communities who see this kind of content, right?

    So, it's a very deliberate effort to infiltrate society, and they come out of the shadows to do it. And then, with flyers and stuff, they can retreat back into the shadows.

    So, again, it's intended to engender fear, to spread anxiety and really create terror.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And what do we know about why you're seeing this disturbing increase over the last year? Do you have reasons for it?

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    There's no question that, in 2020, we had an environment where extremists weren't just emboldened by the rhetoric of politicians, like the president himself.

    They were actually energized, because he and his fellow travelers, from White House staff, to members of Congress, to elected officials, would repeat their rhetoric, would actually credential white supremacists media for White House events, as inexplicable as that may be, and simply refused to consistently and clearly and cogently call them out, the way prior elect — prior generations of elected officials always had done.

    Republicans and Democrats across the board used to routinely recognize the threat that extremism and hate would pose to all of our society. So, when elected officials fail to do that, when people in positions of authority look away or dismiss it, or, even worse, tell these people to — quote — "stand back and stand by," or suggest that you're very fine people, that doesn't — that isn't a dog whistle.

    It's a bullhorn that they hear, and they feel validated. And that gives them even more momentum.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I want to ask you about another report this week, because it is related.

    Intelligence and Homeland Security officials released an unclassified report on domestic violent extremism. Among the highlights, they say that extremists who are motivated by race or by ethnicity, as many of these white supremacist groups you're talking about are, that they present — quote — "the most lethal domestic violent extremist threat."

    Have you seen evidence of that, of an increase in violent or lethal attacks, in correlation to that increase in this kind of propaganda?

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    Well, there's no doubt that we have seen a surge of hate crimes in recent years.

    We can simply look at the numbers of anti-Semitic incidents, where, after a 15-year decline, in 2016, they went up 37 percent, in 2018 — in 2016, 30-some-odd-7 percent, in 2017, 58 percent. In 2018, of course, while the number may have dropped 5 percent, that brought us the Tree of Life Massacre, the most violent anti-Semitic act in American history.

    And, look, from Tree of Life, to El Paso, back to Charleston, to Charlottesville, to even the events in Atlanta this week. I think what we need to recognize is that those aren't outliers, if you will. Those are actually data points on a trend line.

    And what that trend line tells us is that this environment has been conditioned, to the point where prejudice has become simply more pedestrian, hate has become part of the public conversation, and bad actors feel like their impulses can be acted upon.

    So, I think we're in a very precarious position. And what it shows us we should also recognize is that it can start with name-calling, and then it moves to propaganda, to violence, and ultimately, it can lead — to vandalism, and it ultimately escalates to violence.

    So, if you don't interrupt intolerance, if you don't step up and push back on prejudice, it can metastasize into something much worse.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, thank you for being here again. We appreciate it.

  • Jonathan Greenblatt:

    Thank you.

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