White supremacist propaganda rose at alarming rates throughout New England in 2022, with the largest increase taking place in New Hampshire, while Massachusetts ranked second only to Texas in the total number of hate incidents, according to a new national report by the Anti-Defamation League.
The most active hate groups in the region were the Patriot Front and the Nationalist Social Club (NSC-131), while activity by an antisemitic network called the Goyim Defense League was recorded in Vermont and Rhode Island, according to ADL’s Center on Extremism.
The incidents included gatherings and actions taken by white supremacists expressing antisemitic, racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBTQ messages at sites across the region. The groups delivered hateful messages through fliers, graffiti, and banners hung from overpasses. They also marched through Boston Common and made their presence known at Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The number of recorded incidents of hateful propaganda nearly doubled in the five states in ADL’s New England region, the organization said in a statement Thursday.
In New Hampshire, where about 1.4 million people live, there were 183 incidents recorded in 2022, up 383 percent from the previous year. Massachusetts, with nearly 7 million people, had 465 incidents recorded last year, up 71 percent from 2021, according to the center.
In Rhode Island, the number of incidents recorded last year increased by 74 percent, 142 incidents, while Maine had 30 more recorded incidents, a 50 percent increase. In Vermont, with about 650,000 residents, there were 131 incidents recorded in 2022, up 63 percent from a year prior, the center reported.
Experts say the rising numbers are likely influenced by many factors, including perhaps better reporting methods of hate crimes, recruitment by the groups on college campuses, and an uncomfortable local history of racism.
Ted Landsmark, a Northeastern University public policy professor, linked the increase in incidents here to a national trend.
“The national climate that endorses hate speech has exacerbated that and enabled that across New England,” said Landsmark, whose attack by white protesters in Boston over school desegregation in 1976 was captured in a famous Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.
The Rev. Willie Bodrick II, senior pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, said the numbers speak to “the climate of the country at this time. We’re seeing an ever-more divisive culture.”
For other local leaders, the numbers show a need for continued vigilance against hate in the region.
One Massachusetts legislator, Representative Russell E. Holmes, said he was not surprised to learn of the sharp increase. He said white supremacists were emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump and the MAGA movement it spawned nationally. It’s important, he said, for people of color to stand up and call out white supremacy.
“There are lots of white people who believe it doesn’t exist,” said Holmes, whose diverse district is anchored by Mattapan. “When we show that this is still real, there’s nothing more powerful than that.”
Boston City Council President Ed Flynn said in a statement that he also was not surprised by the ADL’s findings.
“As an elected official, I have tried to sound the alarm for years that while we continue to see disgusting displays with hate groups emboldened since Charlottesville in 2017 to brazenly hold Nazi flags or intimidate Jewish and LGBTQ+ neighbors, or immigrants and communities of color, there is a growing problem of extremists seeking to intimidate, use violence, and recruit in our own backyard,” he said.
William C. Leonard, history professor at Emmanuel College, wondered if places such as Massachusetts have better reporting for hate-related incidents than other parts of the country, and whether that partially explained why the state ranked so high in hate propaganda last year. He called the numbers “pretty scary,” and said hate-filled rhetoric has become increasingly normalized all across the country.
“This is perplexing — I wonder where it’s all going to stop,” Leonard said.
Peggy Shukur, interim regional director for ADL New England, was open to that possibility, but also said other factors are at play.
For one, the white supremacist groups NSC-131 and Patriot Front had concentrated activities in the region and recruitment efforts for such groups are often focused on college campuses, which are plentiful in New England.
“Finally, it appears that some groups select Boston for its symbolic value as where the revolution started and as a cradle of liberty,” she said in an e-mail. “These groups traffic in stunts and photo ops, which may also contribute to the activity.”
In response to concerns about rising hate activity in his state, New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella announced civil charges in January against NSC-131, its founder, Christopher R. Hood Jr., and a man named Leo Anthony Cullinan related to “Keep New England White” banners that were hung from an overpass in Portsmouth, N.H., in July 2022.
In Suffolk County, Massachusetts, the district attorney added civil rights prosecutors in 2022 over concerns about hate group activity, including actions by the Nationalist Social Club-131 and the Patriot Front.
The uptick in activity in New England is part of nationwide trend, according to Oren Segal, vice president of ADL’s Center on Extremism.
“The sheer volume of white supremacist propaganda distributions we are documenting around the country is alarming and dangerous,” Segal said. “Hardly a day goes by without communities being targeted by these coordinated, hateful actions, which are designed to sow anxiety and create fear.”
While New England may have a reputation nationally of being home to bastions of progressivism, the region also has a lengthy history of white supremacy. Landsmark cited decades of racism in housing, school segregation, and employment exclusion.
“So the increase in hate speech does not derive from specific negative contact with more diverse people. It arises deep from within New England’s culture,” he said.
In recent years, white supremacy has surfaced locally in very visible ways. Just last year, members of the Nationalist Social Club donned neo-Nazi insignias and marred the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston — typically one of the city’s largest annual celebrations — by unfurling a banner that read “Keep Boston Irish.”
Ahead of the parade on March 19, Flynn, the Boston city councilor and a Southie native, requested that the city’s Human Rights Commission “be vigilant about neo-Nazi and white supremacist activities, and be ready to document any incidents that may occur.”
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