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SPLC founder Joseph Levin, Jr., talks about the rise of hate and bias in America . NorthJersey.com

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White supremacist propaganda surged in the U.S. last year, with flyers, banners and leaflets promoting racism, anti-Semitism and white power across towns and cities — especially in New Jersey, which was one of the worst states for hate-flyering, a new report says.

New Jersey went from 12 incidents of reported hate propaganda in 2017 to 323 incidents in 2020, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which released its report Wednesday.

Scott Richman, ADL regional director for the New York and New Jersey region, called the rise in the Garden State “truly shocking” and said it outpaced almost any other region of the country. 

“This exponential rise in hate serves to spread fear and to recruit even more people to the cause,” Richman said. “We must act quickly to push back against this tide with a whole-of-society approach.”

The report comes as the nation reels from a mass shooting Tuesday night at three spas in Atlanta that killed eight people, including six Asian women. Authorities said it was too soon to conclude whether the shootings were a hate crime, but a rash of attacks targeting Asians have left people fearful and upset over rhetoric scapegoating them for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the U.S., the ADL reported 5,125 cases of hateful messages last year, nearly double the 2,724 cases reported in 2019. Every state except Hawaii reported some activity, with the highest levels in Texas, Washington, California and New Jersey.

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NJ hit with hate messages

New Jersey's image as a diverse and Democratic state may seem at odds with a prevalence of right-wing extremist activity. But in a state that is both populous and diverse, incidents have been plentiful.

New Jersey had 323 incidents last year, up from 147 in 2019.

Areas with university campuses, including New Brunswick, Princeton, Montclair and Piscataway, were among the biggest targets, as white supremacists try to recruit and grow their ranks among college-age men. Nationwide, though, campus flyering was down amid COVID-19 restrictions that shuttered some campuses.

There were 22 incidents in New Brunswick, 16 in Princeton and nine in both Piscataway and Montclair. Incidents were also reported in Trenton, Somerville, Jersey City, Hightstown, Woodbridge, Newark, East Windsor and Wildwood.

Flyers were posted on street signs and telephone poles and banners were unfurled with messages alleging a war on white people orchestrated by Jews and saying white people are becoming extinct. Sometimes, groups use language "veiled with a patriotic slant, making it seem benign to an untrained eye," according to the ADL report.

Political polarization and hate rhetoric are fueling the rise, Richman said.

“For the past few years, we have seen language from the top that was used to denigrate minorities, denigrate immigrants, to talk about things like America first or reclaiming America or making America great again and tying that all to this kind of hate-filled rhetoric against some people in this country,” he said.

It’s not just flyering that has increased; the movements themselves have grown, with at least 30 groups now responsible for pushing the propaganda, Richman said. Three groups were behind 92% of the reported activity: Patriot Front, Nationalist Social Club and the New Jersey European Heritage Association.

Founded in 2018, the New Jersey-based group sees itself as defending white European people and white culture and has spread racist and anti-Semitic information on properties and at rallies and demonstrations. Its efforts have also spread to other states, according to the ADL.

The expressions of bigotry have a direct link to hate crimes, because they empower and embolden white supremacists to act and to feel they have a mandate to act, Richman said.

“There's a through-line between Charlottesville and El Paso and Pittsburgh and what happened at our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6,” Richman said, referring to sites of white supremacist violence. “This is not just flyers or stickers. It's violence. It’s all connected, and this language has a real cost.” 

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Standing up to hate

There are ways to fight back, Richman said. People in authority need to stand up to others who spread hate and must support legislation to combat extremism.

He noted that the ADL joined other groups to pressure social media companies to crack down on hate speech online. The anti-hate organization found that President Donald Trump's removal from Twitter led to a dramatic drop in misinformation, Richman said.

He also called for anti-bias education and training in schools, which was one of the recommendations in a 103-page report from New Jersey's Youth Bias Task Force released in October. The task force also called for stronger hate crime laws and action to combat racial discrimination in school disciplinary practices. 

"It’s important that we speak up together and that we speak up for each other," Richman said.

Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: adely@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @adelyreporter 

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