It’s sad and sickening to learn that a white nationalist hate group spread propaganda in four area towns last year.

But it’s not surprising.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual survey of the number of groups nationwide espousing hate, those organizations rose for the fourth year in a row, climbing to 1,020 known groups.

In the past year alone, the number was up 7%, its highest total in two decades.

White nationalist groups have grown considerably over the last two years, jumping from 193 to 264, the report says. That increase marked a resurgence in the aftermath of the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“Much of the energy on the radical right this year was concentrated in the white supremacist milieu,” the report reads. “After a lull that followed the violence in Charlottesville, which brought criminal charges and civil suits that temporarily dampened the radical right’s activism and organizing, newer groups gathered momentum.”

Perhaps most disturbing is how “mainstream” such hate groups have become. As the report noted: “The (Ku Klux Klan) has not been able to appeal to younger racists, with its antiquated traditions, odd dress and lack of digital savvy. Younger extremists prefer … polo shirts and khakis to Klan robes.”

Leading the way in the spread of propaganda is the Patriot Front, the group the Anti-Defamation League says is responsible for distributing hate material in Mansfield, Norton, Rehoboth and Seekonk.

Groups like the Patriot Front have transitioned away from blatantly racist and antisemitic language, says the ADL, to “promoting a form of ‘patriotism’ that emboldens white supremacy, xenophobia, antisemitism, and fascism.” Such dog-whistle linguistic maneuvers shroud the hateful messaging.

We understand that spreading racist propaganda is legal. Hateful speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Our concern is that hateful speech leads to hate crimes. And like the number of hate groups, violence or vandalism against minorities is on the rise.

Just last week another local incident was reported when fans of Franklin High allegedly shouted antisemitic slurs to members of the Sharon High School baseball team during a Franklin-Sharon varsity game.

In its most recent survey, the FBI reported 8,263 hate crimes in 2020, up from 7,314 or 13% from the year before. It was the highest number reported since 2001.

There is no simple solution to this. But there are a couple of small things that may help.

First, let’s call out examples of hateful speech instead of looking the other way. For instance, Confederate flags can no longer be excused as celebrations of the “heritage” of the South or of a rebellious nature. They may be that in part, but they are also symbols of a racist ideology that terrorized Blacks for decades.

Second, let’s be sure our young people are educated about the motives of hate groups. Let’s instill values in them so that they don’t fall prey to such propaganda.

The lesson should be: It’s wrong to target anyone, not for anything they’ve done, but for who they are.

Recommended for you