Weed out persistent hatefulness
When it comes to hate group propaganda, Pennsylvania — it pains us to say — is No. 1.
According to a report released last month by the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacist propaganda remained at historic levels nationwide in 2021, with the Keystone State leading the way.
The ADL cited 473 incidents of publicly displayed white-supremacist materials in Pennsylvania last year — nearly 100 more than in second-place Virginia (375). Specific episodes were documented locally in York, Red Lion, Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg and Carlisle.
“Fighting hate in Pennsylvania has never been more important,” said Andrew Goretsky, the regional director for ADL Philadelphia.
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It has already been an ongoing battle. Neo-Nazi groups like the National Socialist Movement and white-supremacy groups like the Royal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan have been active in the state in recent years. And the Southern Poverty Law Center last year tracked 30 hate groups throughout Pennsylvania, including Holocaust deniers based in York and chapters of the Proud Boys operating out of Harrisburg.
Add to that the casual racism reflected in confederate flags flying from porches or affixed to vehicles in the form of bumper stickers and the scourge is multiplied.
As if there’s not enough home-grown racial animosity, the latest wave of white supremacist nonsense is largely imported. The ADL says much of the propaganda it has documented originates out of state. It has traced some 90 percent of the materials to a Texas-based white supremacist group known as the Patriot Front (one of the organizations cited by the SPLC).
This makes it difficult to know exactly how many individuals are distributing the hateful materials. Though with incidents taking place from Erie to Philadelphia, clearly, it’s too many.
Further muddying the waters: 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.
What’s to be done?
Part of the answer lies in calling out examples of hateful speech instead of looking the other way. Confederate flags and other symbols of can no longer be excused as celebrations of the “heritage” of the South or a rebellious nature. They may be that in part, but they are also symbols of a racist ideology that terrorized Black and other minority populations in the nation for decades.
Then there are the less-obvious displays. Hate groups utilize a sometimes-dizzying litany of numerals, abbreviations and hand gestures to signal their vile ideology. Only by recognizing these symbols can the public challenge them. The ADL provides a comprehensive database.
Finally, local, state and federal leaders need to do a better job of prioritizing efforts to oppose hateful deeds. The useless preoccupation with relitigating the 2020 presidential election and waging culture wars against partisan bogeymen monopolizes time and attention better spent on legitimate issues. The stubborn persistence of racist, bigoted and hateful speech and acts is among the most serious of these issues — particularly in Pennsylvania.
Hateful speech leads to hate crimes. Antisemitic assaults are on the rise (the Tree of Life Synagogue shootings in suburban Pittsburgh are just one painful example), people of Asian descent have been scapegoated for the coronavirus, and LGBTQ individuals are seeing their rights under all-out assault, including in Pennsylvania.
And yet a package of bills to tighten the state’s hate crime laws sits dormant in the state Legislature.
In sum: more aggressive measures are needed to counter white supremacist propaganda, both legislatively and socially.
There are many areas in which Pennsylvania should strive to lead the nation. Propagation of hateful propaganda should not be one of them.