Our opinion: Ugly tide of racist propaganda continues to rise

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This country waged a civil war over slavery in the mid-19th century. It struggled with the advancement of civil rights for all people, regardless of race and religion, in the 20th century.

The fight for equality has been going on for more than 200 years, and often it seems like real progress is being made, especially when an African-American was elected president in 2008.

So, why is the ugly tide of racism and religious bigotry, particularly the white supremacist strain, on the rise again?

According to data recently released by the Anti-Defamation League, every New England state reported at least a doubling of white supremacist propaganda incidents last year. In Vermont, 81 incidents of white supremacist propaganda were recorded in 2019, compared to 14 in 2018. That ranks second among New England states to Massachusetts, which recorded an alarming 148 incidents last year compared to only 35 in 2018. New Hampshire had 30 incidents in 2019, 10 times the number recorded the year before.

"Our data clearly demonstrates that white supremacists are doubling down on the distribution of propaganda across the U.S. and in our region, with a particular focus on campuses and the public square," said Robert Trestan, ADL New England Regional Director. "By injecting a barrage of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters into the public square and on campus, white supremacists are attempting to normalize their messages of bigotry and to bolster recruitment, all while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, never having to face the consequences of their hate and intolerance."

It's happening 40 miles to the east in Brattleboro, where an anti-Jewish message was scrawled in chalk on an Elliott Street sidewalk in 2018, and white supremacist leaflets were distributed in Pliny Park. We have a self-identified white supremacist here in Bennington who boasts about how he helped drive the only black woman legislator from the Vermont House, and faced no charges from either the town police or the attorney general's office because they could find no laws he had broken.

Let's call it what it is: racism, perhaps emboldened by a president who pandered to white supremacists after they held a violent rally in Virginia; who trusts as one of his key advisers, especially on immigration policy, a man (Stephen Miller) who promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage, according to leaked emails.

Here in Vermont, we can be more vigilant, more aware, more responsive to incidents of white supremacist propaganda, whether it's leaflets distributed on the street, posters stapled on the public square, racist messages scrawled on the sidewalk, or online racial harassment with no repercussions.

Quite simply, we can do better.

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