Education

Kentucky is a top target for on-campus white supremacist propaganda, recruiting

Kentucky mayor on former resident accused of killing Charlottesville protester

Florence, Ky. Mayor Diane Whalen says her city should not be defined by former resident James Alex Fields Jr., a white supremacist who allegedly killed protester Heather Heyer with his car in Charlottesville, Va.
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Florence, Ky. Mayor Diane Whalen says her city should not be defined by former resident James Alex Fields Jr., a white supremacist who allegedly killed protester Heather Heyer with his car in Charlottesville, Va.

Reading, writing and arithmetic are competing with more and more racist rhetoric on U.S. college campuses, a new report finds.

Instances of white supremacist propaganda showing up on college campuses trended higher in the recently completed academic year, according to the Anti-Defamation League report published Thursday.

That follows a major spike in documented cases of white supremacist fliers, stickers, posters and other material in the 2017-2018 academic year, the anti-hate watchdog group said.

And it’s only getting worse.

The just-completed spring semester saw more extremist propaganda on campus than any preceding semester, the ADL said, with 161 incidents on 122 different campuses across 33 states and the District of Columbia.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, California saw the highest number of instances of on-campus white supremacist propaganda, with 58. That was followed by Kentucky with 22 and Oklahoma with 19, the ADL said.

Occurrences of white supremacist propaganda in non-college settings also spiked, with 672 instances in the first five months of 2019, the ADL said.

The recent surge in college campuses points to greater efforts within hate groups to recruit young, impressionable minds, while the overall increases reflect a political climate where white supremacist rhetoric is increasingly tolerated, ADL chief executive officer Jonathan Greenblatt said.

“There’s no doubt that these extremists feel emboldened when they’ve suddenly become present in the public conversation,” Greenblatt said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“Our campuses and communities should be places for learning and development, not places for racists and bigots to propagate hate speech and search for potential recruits,” Greenblatt said.

White supremacist groups are working social media to push their message to the masses and, in turn, have achieved a level of influence in the political discourse not seen in decades, Greenblatt said.

Some elected officials are echoing white supremacist messaging and retweeting their memes, Greenblatt said. Their phrasing, he said, “has literally become staples of discussions on cable talk programs.”

In 2017, President Donald Trump refused to denounce white supremacists involved in a deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, instead saying there were “some very fine people on both sides.”

The ADL report documented 313 cases of white supremacist propaganda on college campuses between Sept. 1, 2018, and May 31, 2019, all of them stemming from organizations associated with what’s known as the alt-right movement.

That was a 7% increase from the previous academic year, when there were 292 cases, according to the ADL.

The 2017-2018 tally marked a 77% increase from the previous academic year.

Greenblatt said university presidents and campus leaders need to speak out swiftly and strongly when white supremacist propaganda shows up on their campuses.

He also called for increased training for campus officials tasked with responding to bias incidents so they can recognize what they’re looking for.

Such fliers, he said, are intended to intimidate marginalized communities, not stir a conversation.

“A campus should be an environment for exploration and for learning, but it should not be a testing ground for racist rhetoric,” Greenblatt said. “It should be a laboratory for ideas, not for intolerance.”

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