Texas had more white supremacist incidents last year than most of the US. Why?

Reports of white supremacy propaganda have increased across the country, and experts say social media is amplifying the rhetoric.

The Anti-Defamation League tracks the propaganda and events organized or attended by white supremacists.

Its data shows Texas ranked second in the country last year with nearly 700 incidents reported.

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Nationally, the ADL saw a 12% increase in 2023 with 7,567 cases, including distribution of racist, antisemitic or anti-LGBTQ+ fliers, stickers, banners, graffiti, posters or laser projections.

The data also showed a 30% increase in antisemitic propaganda, which jumped from 852 incidents in 2022 to 1,112 in 2023. Patriot Front, a Texas-based white supremacist group, was responsible for 60% of propaganda distributions.

Additionally, the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel added to anti-Israel and anti-Zionism sentiment, according to the data.

There was an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda with 164 reports in 2023, compared to 68 the year before. More than a third of the material was distributed by Patriot Front.

Why this is happening?

Stacy Cushing, a regional director at the Anti-Defamation League in North Texas and Oklahoma, says white supremacist propaganda is reaching more people with less effort because of social media.

Groups use patriotic slogans to draw people in and including website links on their flyers.

“What happens is, many people will take pictures, and they’ll post about it,” Cushing said. “And so the reach, even though it might be a small neighborhood, the one person’s reach extends far beyond the area that they distributed the propaganda.”

Jon Lewis is a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, where he studies domestic terrorism and the evolution of anti-government movements.

Lewis says white supremacist groups are hard to pin down because they operate online. The internet allows groups to be fluid or shut down and quickly rebrand with a new name and symbol.

He said understanding the narratives and conspiracies driving the rhetoric is more important than the individuals behind the groups. When repeated on TV by leaders people trust, these “mobilizing concepts” lead to protests or clashes.

“They were inspired, pretty clearly, by the rhetoric coming out of the mainstream spaces, coming out of floors of Congress, coming off of social media from the (Twitter) blue check accounts, or accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers,” Lewis said.

The rhetoric touches a emotional chord with people who believe they’re being left behind in a transforming society. This can lead to groups of people being targeted for violence.

Incidents in Texas

Texas was behind Virginia with the most incidents reported in the country last year.

According to the ADL, Houston had the most reported incidents followed by Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth.

There were 282 documented white supremacist events across the country in 2023, compared to 173 in 2022, with the most being in Texas, according to the ADL.

Tarrant County had 52 reported incidents of propaganda or events. About half were in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth has experienced its share of white supremacy incidents within the last year.

Last October, a small group dressed in Nazi regalia was escorted out of a gun show at Will Rogers Memorial Center. When a larger group returned the next day, one member was cited by police for disorderly conduct.

In the same month, people wearing Nazi clothing put over 250 pieces of antisemitic material on cars at Fort Worth Botanic Garden. A similar group was seen eating at a Torchy’s Tacos that led to a viral TikTok video followed by a strong condemnation from the restaurant chain.

In February, white supremacist flyers were found in the North Ridglea Neighborhood with messages stating “Stop Illegal Immigration” and “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The flyers also connected to a website the Anti-Defamation League describes as a “small but growing neo-Nazi group” based near the East Texas city of De Kalb.

How should people combat it?

Lewis says the best ways to combat the rise in white supremacist incidents is for people to call it out when they see it — especially when it involves people in positions of power or influence

Leah White, associate regional director for the ADL’s North Texas office, says reports of hate in all forms have dramatically risen. It all ties back to white supremacist activities, she says.

People should stay informed and care about these events because they’re happening to someone in their community, White said.

The Anti-Defamation League has resources available to speak with children about current events and how they can feel safe in their neighborhood.

It’s important to report these incidents to the Anti-Defamation League so they can track trends, notify law enforcement and inform local community organizations.

“When we stand up, and speak out against these activities in numbers, that’s when change can happen,” White said. “So even if it’s not happening to you, the strength and numbers to advocate for change is so important.”