SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - A new study released by the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism Tuesday says there was a dramatic 182% increase in reports of white supremacy group propaganda in 2018 compared to the previous year.
The study collected data from many sources including police reports, the news media, and phonecalls directly to ADL hotlines. In 2017 the number of reports of white supremacist propaganda was 421. In 2018, that more than doubled to 1,187 incidents.
California was one of the areas most impacted.
Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland said it was a shock to many of his members last fall, when racially charged flyers started showing up outside five East Bay Jewish temples and synagogues.
"We had those flyers posted on light poles outside the synagogue as did many of the East Bay congregations," said Rabbi Bloom, adding that it was not a complete surprise to some.
"We've seen it in internet chat rooms and comments. We've seen it on university campuses. And we've now seen it at rallies. And those rallies are becoming more and more public," said Rabbi Bloom.
The study says states with the highest activity were California, Texas, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Florida And Virginia.
"Sometimes these flyers are just simply meant to intimidate, or the banners that are put across highways are meant to spread the message," said Seth Brysk, ADL's Central Pacific Region Director.
Brysk says 319 incidents of white supremacist propaganda occurred on college campuses in 2018.
The most incidents were by extremist groups Identity Europa and Patriot Front, often with a goal to recruit new members.
The biggest increase, though, in 2018 was off campus, with flyers such as the ones in the East Bay left in public places.
"These are sometimes as simple as their logo and a website inserted in a book in a library, in a bookstore. Even in those little free libraries that people have next to their mailboxes on the street," said Brysk.
Brysk says distributing propaganda is not illegal, but could have serious long term effects.
"Those may not be violations of the law. But it's an attempt to normalize the hatred. Normalize these extreme views and get them to have wider acceptance and wider viewership and into the mainstream," said Brysk. He added that the ADL's educational program teaches students about bias using a graph that depicts hate as a pyramid, where extreme acts of violence are based on a foundation of seemingly benign acts of prejudice or stereotyping.
Recent images on social media that allegedly depict a Newport Beach high school party in Orange County where students did Nazi salutes over plastic cups arranged in the shape of a swastika, point to incidents that some might see as minor or dismiss as students acting foolishly. But Brysk says it's important for people to speak up in those situations. He says silence or dismissing such acts as minor, can embolden those who might later take white supremacist ideology a step further.