Hate group and anti-Semitic incidents rose during Trump’s first year, reports find

A community discussion in Newton took place in 2016 in response to incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti being found in schools in the town and taunting during a high school basketball game.
A community discussion in Newton took place in 2016 in response to incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti being found in schools in the town and taunting during a high school basketball game.(Katherine Taylor for the Boston Globe/File)

The number of hate groups and anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased during President Trump’s first year in office, according to two reports from watchdog groups that tracked white supremacist ideology around the country.

In an analysis released this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center said the number of hate groups grew from 917 in 2016 to 954 last year. The center largely attributed the rise to Trump’s campaign and his administration, saying the new president catapulted “angry Internet warriors” to become protesters at white nationalist rallies on the streets of Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere.

Separately, the national Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday released an audit that said anti-Semitic incidents went up nearly 60 percent in 2017 over the prior year — an increase, the group said, due in part to episodes in schools and on college campuses. In Massachusetts, there was a 42 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents last year over 2016.

The reports bolstered the views of hate crimes researchers and anti-hate advocates who had expressed concern that Trump’s rhetoric and policies had helped to normalize white supremacist activities.


“Now that Trump is in, you are seeing an even bigger increase because he is speaking the language of what they’ve always been saying,’’ said Kevin Borgeson, a Salem State University associate professor of criminal justice who specializes in hate crimes. “They are . . . feeding off what Trump is saying.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s report — “2017: The Year in Hate and Extremism” — said that within the white supremacist movement, neo-Nazi organizations saw the greatest growth, increasing from 99 in 2016 to 121 last year.

The number of anti-Muslim groups increased for a third straight year, from 101 chapters in 2016 to 114 in 2017, the center said, and anti-immigrant organizations rose to 22 last year from 14 the previous year.


The center defines anti-Muslim hate groups, which it said emerged after the 9/11 terrorist attack, as those “exhibiting extreme hostility to Muslims.” Anti-immigrant groups blame foreign-born residents for “all of the country’s ills, from poverty and inner city decay to crime, urban sprawl, and environmental degradation,’’ the center said.

Overall, white supremacist groups experienced a net loss of one chapter, the report said, largely because Ku Klux Klan groups fell dramatically, from 130 in 2016 to 72 last year. The decline, the report said, indicates a generational shift in white extremism, from older men “wearing Klan robes or swastika armbands” to young men with “flashy haircuts, khakis, and polo shirts.”

At the same time, black nationalist groups — known for their anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, anti-white rhetoric and conspiracy theories — spiked to 233 chapters in 2017, up from 193 the previous year, the report said. Even with the increase, the center noted, black nationalist groups lagged far behind the more than 600 hate groups that adhere to some form of white supremacist ideology.

The center cautioned that black nationalist groups should not be confused with black activist groups such as Black Lives Matter.

Heidi Beirich, director of the law center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks hate groups and produced the report, said data came from news reports and information its investigators gathered from websites, online forums, publications, and bulletin boards that cater to hate groups.

Beirich faulted the coarsening of public discourse and the president’s rhetoric, tweets, and policies. She pointed to Trump’s retweet of anti-Muslim videos, his softened tone toward the white supremacists who marched in the Charlottesville rally that left one person dead, and his disparaging comments about African nations as “shithole countries.”


“I ascribe a lot of the jump in the number of neo-Nazi groups in particular to what has been happening in our country in the last year’’ or the previous year, said Beirich. “It’s expressed itself in hate crimes, many of them done in Donald Trump’s name specifically.”

In the second report, the ADL said the most significant increases of anti-Semitic incidents were in schools and on college campuses, where younger people seem more receptive to an extremist narrative, said Robert Trestan, the ADL’s leader in New England.

Nationally, Jewish institutions, including schools, also saw incidents double, jumping from 170 in 2016 to 342 last year. Meanwhile, college campuses saw a total of 204 incidents in 2017, compared to 108 in 2016, the ADL’s “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents” said.

Since 2013, anti-Semitic incidents have been fairly consistent in Massachusetts, but they surged in 2016 to 125 incidents and to 177 last year, Trestan said.

“The extremist narrative, which is also based on racism, conspiracy theories, and Islamaphobia, is part of the mainstream,’’ he added. “And given the social media world that we live in, the students who are in middle and high school don’t often have the filters in place to understand what is coming at them and what they are repeating.”


The ADL noted there were 1,986 anti-Semitic episodes reported across the United States in 2017, including physical assaults, vandalism, and attacks on Jewish institutions.

There were 1,267 incidents in 2016, said the ADL, which added there was at least one incident last year in all 50 states for the first time in at least a decade.

The states with the highest number of incidents tend to be those with the largest Jewish populations. These include New York (380 incidents); California (268); New Jersey (208); Massachusetts (177); Florida (98); and Pennsylvania (96), the ADL said.

In Massachusetts, 93 percent of the incidents last year occurred in K-12 schools, up from 50 percent in 2016, according to the ADL. The incidents included a Brockton student who was removed from Plouffe Academy, a public middle school, for putting a swastika and pro-Hitler message on a desk.

In addition, the audit showed that 109 of the incidents were acts of vandalism, including two separate cases over the summer when assailants vandalized the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston.

Oren Segal, the ADL’s national director of the Center on Extremism, said the ADL’s data were derived from reports to its more than two dozen offices nationwide. He and others said there were many reasons for the rise in anti-Semitism, including the divisive national rhetoric.

“You cannot ignore it when public officials are retweeting anti-Semitic [messages] and sharing anti-Muslim views,’’ he said.

He and Trestan also said more people are reporting such incidents and said the ADL is responding by educating youth and law enforcement to combat the disturbing trend.


Globe correspondent Johanna Seltz and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.