A report by the Anti-Defamation League says that white-supremacy propaganda in the United States increased 182 percent in 2018 from the year before and that efforts to recruit young people are taking place on and off school campuses.

Rising concerns about the spread of white-supremacist ideology were underscored Friday with the shooting deaths of at least 49 people at two mosques in New Zealand. A man alleged to be involved in at least one of the attacks had published an online document that made clear his white-supremacist views, and the number 14 was seen on his rifle, possibly a reference to a 14-word white-supremacist slogan attributed in part to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

To help fight the spread of white-nationalist ideology to young people, educators have created what they say is the first tool kit for schools to recognize signs that someone is being recruited by white supremacists, and how to safely and effectively fight it.

Confronting White Nationalism in Schools: A Tookit” was written by two educators in partnership with the Western States Center, a liberal nonprofit organization working toward social, economic, racial and environmental justice.

Nora Flanagan, a veteran Chicago high school English teacher who is one of the authors, said she has been working in schools for 21 years and has seen a number of incidents occur.

“And I’ve watched every school struggle with how to respond, how not to over-respond, and how not to under-respond,” she said. “There’s been no resource. Schools are just left to wing it, and a lot of missteps happen.”

The tool kit — which was also written by Lindsay Schubiner, a program director at the center, and Jessica Acee, an educator and community organizer in Portland, Ore. — offers common scenarios that educators, administrators and others can recognize and offers recommendations on addressing them. It is free and can be obtained on the Western States Center website, here.

The authors sought the advice of teachers, administrators and stakeholders as they compiled best practices for stakeholders in each community. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all tool,” Acee said. “There’s a lot for different school communities to adapt.”

Schubiner said that when she has talked about the tool kit, people are surprised by the recruitment of kids.

“People are surprised at how intentionally white-nationalist groups are targeting young people and how widespread the impact can be and how they can show up in diverse ways,” she said. “Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer [a neo-Nazi website] has said his website is designed mainly to target children as young as 11, and that is surprising to a lot of people and deeply disturbing.”

The ADL report says that some of the propaganda — fliers, banners and other methods — is not immediately identifiable as coming from white-supremacist groups.

The propaganda, which includes everything from veiled white supremacist language to explicitly racist images and words, often features a recruitment element, and frequently targets minority groups, including Jews, Blacks, Muslims, non-white immigrants and the LGBTQ community. . . . [T]he 2018 propaganda incidents are predominantly concentrated in large metropolitan areas, with the highest activity levels in the states of California, Texas, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Florida and Virginia.
The 2018 numbers, which far exceed any previous annual propaganda distribution counts, also demonstrate that while white supremacist groups continued to target U.S. college campuses, the number of on-campus incidents increased only modestly (9%), compared to a huge (572%) jump in off-campus incidents.

The report said that Identity Evropa, the country’s largest alt-right group, was responsible for more than 40 percent (503 of 1,187) of the propaganda distributions in 2018.

The group refrains from using recognizable white supremacist imagery and language, preferring subtler white supremacist messages. Their latest fliers, featuring George Washington or Andrew Jackson, read, “European roots American greatness."
Some of the group’s 2018 propaganda targeted public figures. Since September, the group has distributed fliers accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of stifling free speech. In Atlanta, they posted similarly styled fliers accusing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms of “putting illegal aliens first.” As part of their ongoing efforts to appear as conventional conservatives they also used propaganda with mainstream messages like “Merry Christmas” and “Thank you veterans.”

Here is an example from the tool kit of how schools can respond if:

  • School property is vandalized with a hate group symbol or phrase, with no means to identify the culprit.
  • Someone has distributed fliers promoting a white-nationalist group, event or ideology.
  • Anonymous online content disparaging marginalized students or groups appears.

Flanagan said the biggest mistake she has seen in responding to hate is not engaging with students.

“Adults will just mete out punishment and run with it,” she said. “Especially with social media today, anything that happens in a school, the students know before the adults. If the students don’t see engagement, that they have a role in it, nothing gets better and it often gets worse.”