Incidents of white supremacist propaganda being distributed in Illinois doubled in the last year, and hit its highest level nationally since it has been tracked.
That’s according to a report by Anti-Defamation League report released last week.
In Illinois, incidents climbed from 76 in 2019 to 152 in 2020, said David Goldenberg, who is Midwest regional director of the ADL.
“It appears in many ways that white supremacists were empowered by an election cycle, by the pandemic, by economic uncertainty, and a number of other local, national, international factors that played a role,’’ he said.
Brian Johnson, CEO of the LGBTQ civil rights group Equality Illinois, agreed and said, “When we have over and over again, leaders at the highest level of public office justifying violence and insurrection, and a very narrow view of what it means to be an American, those with the most hateful views are going to be involved in to act on them.
“We are seeing a national dialogue that says to many people out there it is okay to spew vitriol and to attack your fellow Americans,’’ he said. “And it is unsurprising that that also manifests itself in white supremacist propaganda, or in anti LGBTQ violence or in anti-Semitic hate speech.”
The propaganda was spread throughout the state but especially concentrated in the Chicago area and central Illinois. Goldenberg said much of the material, like fliers, stickers, posters and banners, is spread under the dark of night, when there is less fear of being caught or alerting counter protests.
White supremacist messages came groups such as the Patriot Front. Their common themes were often anti-immigrant, with slogans such as "One nation against invasion" and "Not stolen, conquered.”
“When those who have a narrow view of who we are as a country try to divide Americans, but it impacts all of us,’’ Johnson said. “So when you spew anti-Semitic language, when you use homophobic language, when you are violent against Asian Americans, it is an attack on all of us, who come from groups who have been historically marginalized.”
Goldenberg said several things have contributed to the surge, including what he called the overall deterioration of civil society, including a political environment and rise of use of technology and social media. “Social media and online platforms have become cesspools of hate.”
Johnson called for a recommitment to American values.
“It is incumbent on all of us as a country to renew our commitment to a true understanding of what it means to be America, which is a diverse, multi ethnic, cosmopolitan country built on shared values — not a very narrow view of a cultural identity.”