They are a staple of any college campus: leaflets, posters and stickers promoting clubs, meetings and parties.
From afar, they look innocuous — and most are. But on closer inspection, a growing number are promoting white supremacist propaganda such as "America Is Not for Sale," "One Nation Against Invasion" and "Reclaim America."
The distribution of such propaganda on college and university campuses nearly doubled last year, to 630 reported incidents from 320 in 2018, the Anti-Defamation League documented in a report released Wednesday. There were 410 reported incidents in the fall semester, it said, more than double any previous college term since the organization began its tally in 2016.
The Anti-Defamation League attributed part of the increase to greater vigilance from those reporting the propaganda.
"This is all about optics and entry points to a broader white supremacist movement," said Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. "We need to understand that there is a connection, ideologically, from a piece of propaganda on these campuses to an attack in our communities."
The proliferation of propaganda can be traced to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that turned deadly when a man drove into a crowd of counterprotesters, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
"After Charlottesville, white supremacist organizations were left reeling and splintered organizationally by adverse publicity, doxxing and legal woes," Levin said. He added, "Pamphlets and stickers represent the biggest little bang for the buck, enabling them to stir the pot somewhat, but with little risk of arrest."
While a few alt-right groups still publicly protest, he said, most have increased their internet activity; others have shifted underground, using smaller encrypted online platforms.
Levin said the propaganda intertwined hard-core racism with wedge issues like immigration to appeal to disenfranchised white people, particularly on school campuses.
The Anti-Defamation League data shows that white supremacist propaganda is growing across the country, not only on college campuses. A total of 2,713 cases, an average of more than seven per day, were reported nationwide last year, compared with 1,214 in 2018. The highest activity was reported in California, Texas and New York. But every state except Hawaii reported at least one incident.
Two-thirds of the incidents were attributed to the Texas-based Patriot Front.
Over a 48-hour span in Chicago in late September and early October, the Patriot Front barraged Wilbur Wright College, Moody Bible Institute and Northeastern Illinois University with messages, according to the Anti-Defamation League's data.
"In some ways, it's one of the most basic forms of spreading hateful narratives and spreading anxiety in communities," said Segal. "Fundamentally, these are violent extremist movements. That's why we feel that it's important to document this. The stakes are too high."
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Judiciary Committee last week that violent extremists motivated by race were now considered a "national threat priority" equivalent to foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS.
Extremist groups are doubling down to amplify their public activities, which are happening less frequently, Segal said. A flyer posted on an online forum can resonate with some people, he said, motivating them to post physical propaganda in their community that spreads hateful narratives and anxiety.
"Their ideas are seeping in," he said.