Utah among top 10 states with highest levels of white supremacist propaganda

Mar 19, 2023, 8:52 PM

The Beehive State had the seventh highest level of white supremacist propaganda incidents in the co...

The Beehive State had the seventh highest level of white supremacist propaganda incidents in the country during 2022, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League. (Ariya J, Shutterstock)

(Ariya J, Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Beehive State had the seventh highest level of white supremacist propaganda incidents in the country during 2022, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League.

Utah accounted for 222 of the 6,751 incidents reported across the country, which include the distribution of racist, antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners, graffiti, posters and laser projections. The numbers represent record highs for both the state and the U.S., as well as a statewide increase of 134% and a national increase of 38% from 2021.

The Utah incidents took place largely along the Wasatch Front, although a handful took place in more rural parts of the state. Texas-based Patriot Front was responsible for all but six of the Utah incidents, as well as 80% of nationwide incidents. According to the report, Utah was one of the six states where the group was the most active. Members of Patriot Front, including six Utahns, were arrested in Idaho last summer and accused of planning a riot at an LGBTQ rally.

Patriot Front hung about 17 banners from freeway overpasses last year across Salt Lake County and in Lehi, Parleys Canyon, Ogden and Bountiful with links to the group’s website and phrases like “Reclaim America” and “One nation, against invasion.” White Lives Matter, which Anti-Defamation League characterizes as “a network of anonymous white supremacists,” was responsible for a handful of other incidents and used more explicit white supremacy in its propaganda.

University of Utah professor Richard Medina, whose research focuses on extremism and conflict, said the groups’ messaging might become more violent and radical as they become more desperate.

“A lot of these white supremacist groups, like the KKK, shifted years ago from a message of hate to a message of love for your own people and your own ethnicity,” Medina said. “But as people become more desperate, as things get more intensified, people tend to step up their game and their message becomes much more radical and violent. … I think they’re feeling that right now because there’s kind of this idea of the white male, you know, it’s OK to be white; or this idea that they’re victimized or they’ve been marginalized by society. It’s making these younger white males desperate.”

Those feelings may play a factor in white supremacist groups’ increasingly common tactic: targeting college campuses. Patriot Front distributed propaganda at Brigham Young University on three occasions and at Salt Lake Community College once last year.

“Targeting younger white males on college campuses, especially during this time our country is still relatively polarized, could be an effective way to gain recruits,” Medina said. “But for a lot of these groups, I think their membership is down. It just doesn’t seem to be working out for them right now. But who knows, maybe it’ll pick up and start working here in the future.”


Putting data into context


Medina said higher levels of propaganda in Utah don’t necessarily mean that white supremacist groups are finding success in the state. In fact, it may mean the opposite.

“I thought that the groups were kind of diminishing at this point; and if that’s the case, it makes sense that we’re going to see a lot more propaganda because they need to grow their numbers,” he said. “There’s a national movement for recruitment and growing these groups. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to work in Utah, but all of the research and evidence that I have show that Utah is a relatively peaceful state at this time — at least given this type of violence. I would be more worried if these groups were founded and based in Utah.”

Medina said low numbers of hate crimes and violence are a positive sign, clarifying that there is a big difference between propaganda distribution and physical activity, like hate crimes and other types of violence.

“That doesn’t mean that people aren’t biased towards people of color or biased in different ways; it just means that we’re not acting on that in a physical way.” Medina said. “If this is just propaganda and the populations aren’t picking up on that, then we don’t really have that much of an issue. I know this propaganda is hurtful, and it can be scary for a lot of populations, but what we really don’t want to see is violence.”

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Utah among top 10 states with highest levels of white supremacist propaganda