SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — According to the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, white supremacy propaganda efforts soared to an all-time high last year.
The ADL reports: “Our data shows a 38 percent increase in incidents from the previous year, with a total of 6,751 cases reported in 2022, compared to 4,876 in 2021. This is the highest number of white supremacist propaganda incidents ADL has ever recorded.” The ADL’s data shows that 222 of those cases happened in Utah. The NAACP Ogden branch is heartbroken over the rise in propaganda.
“It’s not a they and them (issue), it’s an us issue,” Betty Sawyer told ABC4. Sawyer is the president of the NAACP Ogden branch. While not surprised that hate may be on the rise, Sawyer said she – and the members of the branch – are heartbroken.
In its report, the Anti-Defamation League states: “Propaganda campaigns allow white supremacists to maximize media and online attention for their groups and messaging while limiting the risk of individual exposure, negative media coverage, arrests and public backlash that often accompanies more public activities.” The explanation continues, “Propaganda, which affects entire communities, allows a small number of people to have an outsized impact.
The propaganda can be racist, anti-LGBTQ+ and antisemitic. It can come in the form of fliers, stickers, banners, graffiti and posters.
“I think that’s one of the challenges,” Sawyer said. “I think there’s a perception that if I do it to you, I’m just doing it to you. Not that what we do impacts everybody else because we are part of humanity. We are intertwined.”
The Anti-Defamation League has a H.E.A.T. map which tracks hate, extremism, antisemitism and terrorism. The map is interactive and allows the user to break down nationwide totals into state totals. In 2022, it shows that Utah had 222 reported propaganda cases. This same map shows that it is up from 95 cases in the year 2021.
Sawyer told ABC4 they are saddened to see hate rising across the country but are especially sad to see it on the rise in Utah. She added: “We call ourselves a Christian nation, we call ourselves a Christian state, but when we see the increases that we’ve seen in Utah, it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder.”
The propaganda can be as simple as a flyer that says, “It’s okay to be white.” The phrase itself isn’t racist but Sawyer said it’s important to pay attention to intent behind the phrases used. “For someone who has a lived history of violence and hate, we know how it starts. It can be very innocent at first and unchecked, it grows and grows and grows like a cancer.” She said the simple phrases used in propaganda may not seem harmful on the surface but are often understood by those seeking to join a white supremist cause.
The ADL breaks down the perpetrators in a statement: “Throughout 2022, at least 50 different white supremacist groups and networks distributed propaganda, but three of them – Patriot Front, Goyim Defense League (GDL) and White Lives Matter (WLM) – were responsible for 93 percent of the activity.”
The NAACP encourages Utahns to reach out to those who may be affected or targeted. Angel Castillo explained how: “Check in. ‘How are you? Are you okay? How do you feel?’ Hold space for that person. It’s not up to you to solve the problem. It’s up to you to be supportive and ask what you can do.”
Simply put, the NAACP says hate has no place in Utah. “We all belong here,” Castillo stated. “We’re all part of this great state of Utah.”
The ADL H.E.A.T. map shows that along with propaganda, there were 167 recorded white supremist events held across the country during 2022. Three of those were in northern Utah.