We must fight back against the propaganda that fuels hate crimes

It’s not illegal for hate groups to spread their message via leaflets or protests, and that’s happening far more often these days, an Anti-Defamation League report found. It’s important to stop their rhetoric before it leads to harm.

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Patriot Front, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center classified as a white nationalist hate group that broke off from Vanguard America after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, march down South Michigan Avenue in the Loop as anti-abortion activists march across the street during a March for Life rally, Saturday afternoon, Jan. 8, 2022.

Patriot Front, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center classified as a white nationalist hate group that broke off from Vanguard America after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, march down South Michigan Avenue in the Loop as anti-abortion activists march across the street during a March for Life rally, Saturday afternoon, Jan. 8, 2022.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Many Illinoisans, especially Chicagoans, often think of our blue state as a bubble cocooned from most of the vile forces that inflame hatred.

That sense of comfort is only an illusion.

We’re not “immune,” as Anti-Defamation League Midwest Director David Goldenberg put it.

Antisemitic acts in the state reached their highest level in recent history in 2022, soaring 128% from the previous year, from 53 to 121, according a report the ADL released Tuesday.

Documented white supremacist propaganda campaigns also sharply increased last year, jumping 111% from 94 to 198, data from the “Hate in the Prairie State” analysis showed.

Editorial

Editorial

The statistics are an unfortunate reflection of the extremism that has been on the rise in our country and has infiltrated local and national politics.

Offenders arrested for committing physical attacks, harassment and vandalism can be held accountable for their criminal activity, like the northwest suburban man who was sent to prison for spray-painting swastikas and smashing windows at Jewish institutions in West Rogers Park.

But activities such as a reported Quran burning incident in Naperville, or the crashing of local March for Life events as the Texas-based white nationalist group Patriot Front has done before, are often protected under the First Amendment.

White supremacy/white nationalism was the top driver of far-right protest in 2022. Anti-LGBT+ mobilization was the second, but was the lead contributor for the increase in far-right activity last year, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

It may not be illegal for these groups to spread their message through leaflets, online screeds and rallies, but their rhetoric and brainwashing are nevertheless dangerous and could eventually lead to harm against anyone they label as “enemies.”

Ald. Debra Silverstein’s proposed “Chi vs. Hate” ordinance would allow Chicagoans to report “non-criminal hate incidents” by calling the city’s 311 non-emergency number or by using the 311 app.

That includes reporting white supremacist propaganda campaigns mentioned in the ADL report, a Silverstein staffer told us.

Tracking and monitoring these incidents could potentially curb or at least alert law enforcement officials to a potential threat before it escalates. As the City Council weighs in on Silverstein’s proposal, other municipalities should consider similar efforts in order to keep our state as safe as possible.

Illinois is not shielded from hate. But we can keep finding ways to combat it.

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