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Report shows rise in hate in Illinois, but efforts to combat it are also on the upswing

Hate incidents in Illinois
The Center on Extremism, Hate, Extremism, Terrorism

Despite growing hate incidents in Illinois in recent years, the state is in a position to be a leader in combating extremism, said the Midwest leader of the Anti Defamation League, which released a report Tuesday: Hate in the Prairie State: Extremism and Antisemitism in Illinois.

The report covers antisemitic incidents, extremist plots, white supremacist propaganda and hate crime statistics. The hate cited was directed at not only Jews, but racial minorities, LGBTQ individuals, reproductive rights groups and government itself.

“Illinois has seen a dramatic rise in antisemitic incidents in recent years. In 2022, the number of incidents increased by 128% from 2021 levels, rising from 53 to 121. The state’s total was the seventh-highest number of incidents in the country in a year when ADL tracked the highest-ever number of antisemitic incidents nationwide. This is a dramatic increase from 2016, when there were 10 incidents. Preliminary numbers through June 2023 indicate that there have been at least 33 additional antisemitic incidents in the state,’’ the report notes.

“I think there's been … a change in the climate around the country. And it has manifested itself in Illinois in several ways: the political vitriol and the loss of civil discourse. …enough things that politicians and elected officials would have said, what, four or five, six 10 years ago that would have disqualified them for office today, get some a five to 10 point jump in the polls,” said David Goldenberg, Midwest regional director of the ADL..

Goldenberg said, “You have a situation with social media, that companies literally have economic models that rely in some cases or benefit off of pushing people toward hate, and extremism and misinformation.

“You have just sort of basic ignorance, people who, when it comes time to interact and engage with people, you’ve got to work really hard to find people who have different views than you,’’ he said.

Additionally, the report cites:

  • Since 2021, ADL has documented four white supremacist extremist events in Illinois, predominantly marches and protests.
  • In 2022, ADL documented 198 instances of white supremacist propaganda distributions across Illinois, an increase of 111% from 2021.
  • According to the latest FBI hate crimes statistics available, in 2021, there were 101 reported hate crimes in Illinois that targeted a variety of communities, including Jewish, Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander. This total was an increase of 80% from the 56 incidents recorded in 2020.
  • Following the June 2022, U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, observers have noted an uptick in incidents targeting both abortion providers and anti-abortion groups.
  • Between the start of 2022 and June 2023, ADL has tracked 10 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents in Illinois. 

Antisemitic incidents include harassment of a rabbi outside a Jewish high school, swastikas painted on 16 headstones in a historic Jewish n cemetery in Waukegan and phrases including “death to Israel" and "Israelis kill children” written in chalk at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where other instances occurred.
But Illinois has an opportunity to show the rest of the nation how to respond to hate, Goldenberg said.

“We have an opportunity to model to other states how government and how civil society can push back against these trends of extremism. And we're hopeful that Illinois will again and continue to lead the way.

Goldenberg pointed to several signs of Illinois government efforts to fight hate:

“We have a governor who has prioritized these types of these issues; … We have a secretary of state who just led a statewide effort to ban the banning of books,” he said. “We have local units of government in many parts of the state, who are looking for proactive ways to crack down on extremism, to respond to extremism and to support victims. And so we have a General Assembly that just this past legislative session, addressed racism and bullying in schools.

Mike Ziri is director of public policy for Equality Illinois, the LQBTQ civil rights organization. He said, “While hate is not an Illinois value, our state is not immune to the rise in extremism across the country. We need public officials at all levels of government to show up and speak up in solidarity – not just at Pride festivals in June but at the local library board meeting, the school board meeting, and the local clinic or hospital where anti-equality, anti-family forces are seeking to deny and eliminate LGBTQ+ peoples' rights and experiences. But LGBTQ+ communities are resilient and will continue to build our own better world in the face of bias and violence.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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