White Supremacist Propaganda Skyrockets on U.S. Campuses in Trump Era

The surge in white supremacist propaganda isn't happening in a vacuum. Far-right groups have grown in number and size since the election of Donald Trump.

[photo: protesters gather at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, before a speech by alt-right organizer Richard Spencer.]
Protesters react to white nationalist Richard Spencer before Spencer gave a speech in October 2017 at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. A new report from the Anti-Defamation League noted a marked uptick in white supremacist propaganda on college campuses this school year. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

White supremacists distributed nearly double the number of bigoted, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic materials on college campuses in the past academic year compared to a year ago, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The report chronicled 292 incidents of stickers, banners, posters, and other materials featuring racist and bigoted messages distributed on college campuses between September 2017 and May 2018—up 77 percent from the previous academic year. 

White supremacist propaganda appeared at 287 college campuses in 47 states and the District of Columbia, the report noted. Attacking Jews, non-whites, Muslims, and LGBTQ people is part of white supremacists’ broader strategy to recruit new members, according to the report. It’s a trend that worries ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

“We’re concerned to see that white supremacists are accelerating their efforts to target schools with propaganda in hopes of recruiting young people to support their bigoted worldview,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

The surge in white supremacist propaganda isn’t happening in a vacuum. Far-right groups have grown in number and size since the election of Donald Trump, as ProPublica reported. The president has served as a “megaphone” for far-right ideas, an organizer of a deadly rally in Charlottesville told ProPublica. Responding to the August 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, attack, President Trump equivocated in condemning the violence perpetrated by white supremacists, saying, “You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”

Trump’s advisers have included Steve Bannon—whose vision was to turn Breitbart News into “the platform for the alt-right”—and Sebastian Gorka, who said white supremacists are not “the problem” when it comes to terrorism on the eve of the Charlottesville attack, as the Southern Poverty Law Center reportedWhite House adviser Stephen Miller has well-documented ties to hate groups and associated with prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer when the two were students at Duke University.

Colleges in Texas and California were the most frequent targets. The states are a home base to both Identity Evropa and Patriot Front, which the ADL regards as two of the most active white supremacists groups. Identity Evropa was responsible for nearly half of the 478 incidents this academic year, while the newly formed Patriot Front was behind 70 incidents.

White supremacists have rallied this year on college campuses, inciting violence and clashes with counter-protesters, such as when Spencer spoke at Michigan State University in March, the ADL noted in its report.

Migrants were a common target of recent campus propaganda, according to the ADL, which described the messages as pushing “the baseless perception of the dangers posed by a caravan of undocumented immigrants traveling toward the Mexican-American border.” Identity Evropa’s “Stop the Caravan” fliers asked students to call the White House and demand action from the Trump administration. Meanwhile, a Patriot Front flier encouraged students to “Keep America American” and report “illegal aliens” to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Trump railed against the caravan on Twitter

Greenblatt urged campus administrators to combat the hate-filled messages by educating faculty and students on their First Amendment rights and training campus officials. “College campuses and their communities should be places for learning, growing, and the future, not close-minded racism and hate-filled rhetoric from the past,” he said.

Distribution of racist and bigoted materials is also climbing off campus. In the first five months of 2018, the ADL has recorded an average of one incident per day.