New ADL report: White supremacist groups active in Michigan

Charlottesville, Va., "Unite the Right" rally, 2017 | Wikimedia Commons

The Anti-Defamation League continues to document a nationwide surge in white supremacist harassment or propaganda, including 60 confirmed incidents in Michigan between 2018 and 2019, new data show.

ADL HEAT map

According to updated data in the ADL’s Hate, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism, Extremism (HEAT) map, most Michigan examples were due to Patriot Front propaganda, a group described by both the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a white supremacist organization.

The ADL also found several cases of anti-Semitic harassment in Michigan, from students heckled in school, to swastikas scrawled onto walls and a destroyed synagogue menorah. A Jewish child in West Bloomfield reportedly was told by a peer that he should have a concentration camp number on his arm, according to the group.

Attorney General Dana Nessel told the Advance in March that there was “palpable fear amongst the Jewish community” in Michigan after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. And that was one reason why she opened up a hate crimes unit.

Just six months after the Pittsburgh mass shooting, a 60-year-old woman and three others were injured in April when another gunman opened fire on the last day of Passover in the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego, Calif.

People attend a prayer and candlelight vigil at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2019 in Poway, California.| David McNew/Getty Images

In 2019, the ADL documented nine instances of white supremacist propaganda in Michigan. The group has found an overall decrease in anti-Semitic harassment in the past few months, but an increase in “general hate,” according to the group’s Michigan director, Carolyn Normandin.

“I can tell you that the Jewish community is on alert, and I hear from people everyday who are very concerned,” Normandin said. “Everything from swastikas in bathrooms at schools, or desecration of a synagogue in Battle Creek or the tripping of a Jewish fourth grader … those kinds of things are happening.

“[And] this is not just anti-Semitism,” she added. “It’s racial overtures and it’s anti-Semitic overtures.”

Fliers from the Patriot Front — founded by Thomas Rousseau, who participated in the 2017 “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi rally in Charleston, Va. — were found in Lansing, St. Clair Shores, Brighton, Mount Clemens, Southfield, Dearborn and Mount Pleasant in the past five months.

Flier found in Old Town in Lansing | photo by Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Facebook

Identity Evropa flyers were found in Clawson this year. Both groups are designated by the ADL and SPLC as white supremacist organizations.

Overall, hate crimes — distinct from harassment — have risen in Michigan by 30 percent between 2016 and 2017, FBI statistics show. The FBI reports that hate crimes have increased for three straight years across the country.

Nationwide, the ADL found more than 3,500 instances between 2018 and 2019 of racist or anti-Semitic hate, harassment or propaganda — from Seattle to the East Coast.

Nessel announced the hate crime unit in February following an earlier SPLC report that more than 1,000 “hate groups” are active across the country, as the Michigan Advance previously reported. A separate ADL report showed that right-wing ideology also is fueling a surge in hate-related violence.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) announced the creation of a new hate and bias database this year, and Michigan has outlawed “ethnic intimidation” since 1989.

But Republican lawmakers in the state Senate Oversight Committee have questioned the creation of a dedicated unit meant to investigate hate crimes in Michigan.

Sen. Ed McBroom | Michael Gerstein

State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) cited concerns that statistics may be inaccurate or misleading and that the unit may set “a dangerous precedent” in determining when Michigan’s statute on “hate speech” applies to a given crime, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“We are not policing thoughts or words,” Nessel told lawmakers, the Detroit News reported. “While some people in this state may choose to exercise their right to free speech by thinking hateful thoughts, saying hateful words or associating with hate-filled people, as attorney general, it is my job to protect that right, not to prosecute it, even if I vehemently disagree with those thoughts, words or associations.”

On the heels of the nation’s worst attack on worshipers of the Jewish faith in Pittsburgh, Nessel, who is Jewish, told the Advance that the unit is needed now more than ever.

The attorney general criticized Republicans over the issue in an April tweet.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here