ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Hate is on the rise in the Sunshine State and misinformation and conspiracy theories are driving the trend, researchers say.
A new report from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found a 71% jump in extremist incidents from 2020 to 2021. (f)
"These extremist groups are continuing to do more activities, mostly in the form of mass propaganda distribution and distributing fliers and holding in-person demonstrations as well," said Ben Popp, an investigative researcher with the ADL Center on Extremism who helped write the report.
Popp said the ADL recorded over 400 times that white supremacist material showed up in Florida, and they found more extremist groups are setting roots in the state and growing.
"I’m the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, so it hits home sort of personally for me," said Michael Egel, the board chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum. Egel said he and others at the St. Pete museum regularly deal with hateful messages.
People across the state are seeing more of that reality. The report names which extremist and white supremacist groups are active in communities and the frequency of their hate message incidents.
"These groups are attempting to normalize their ideology and to sort of desensitize us to this hateful rhetoric and to make this seem acceptable. And so, we need to make sure that never becomes acceptable," said Popp.
Researchers and community leaders said the first step to pushing back against the hate and bigotry, includes reporting incidents to local police and organizations like the ADL that track the frequency and location.
"I think the key is to do something. Make sure you do something positive. Get yourself educated first, so you know when there’s a problem, you know what you see, and know how to respond it," said Egel.
Demonstrators on side of a roadway with one person holding a sign that reads, 'The Jews are behind it all.'
Egel went on to say places like the Florida Holocaust Museum can help by connecting people with real stories of the consequences of hate.
"It’s not trite. The key to this is educating people in what is right and what is wrong and that sounds much more simple than it is," said Egel. "If it was so simple, we wouldn’t have the wrong in society."
Researchers said people need to know what’s going on around them and call out hate when it happens.
"I think that's why we need to just call on public officials and religious leaders, community leaders, you know, the people that already have a sort of presence in our community and are willing to speak publicly. We need to continue to call on them to condemn this," said Popp.
The Anti-Defamation League also suggests more protections for marginalized communities through legislation. They also recommend parents and students prioritize anti-bias and Holocaust education to help with awareness of extremism.