A report issued Wednesday by ADL, also known as the Anti-Defamation League, claims extremist-related incidents in Florida rose 71% between 2020 and 2021.
ADL, an international Jewish non-governmental organization based in New York, also maintains a H.E.A.T. Map listing incidents that it classifies as representing hate, extremism, anti-Semitism, or terrorism.
The database includes more than 20 incidents occurring in Polk County since 2016. Most are cases of extremist groups distributing what ADL calls propaganda.
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The spreadsheet documents 10 incidents in Lakeland since 2016. Most recently, ADL says members of Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, distributed propaganda last December. The group is listed as sharing material in Lakeland on two other occasions in 2021.
Patriot Front has also distributed material in Kathleen, Haines City, Davenport, Lake Alfred and Lake Wales, most recently in February, according to the database. The registry describes the propaganda as containing such messages as “America First,” “Not stolen; conquered” and “For the nation; against the state.”
In January, Patriot Front members reportedly hung a banner on an overpass in Haines City that said “Better dead than red.” ADL says Patriot Front members hung a banner at a soccer complex in Auburndale last December bearing the message, “America First,” and also distributed propaganda.
ADL reports that another white-supremacist group, Identity Evropa, also known as American Identity Movement, has made appearances in Polk County. Members hung a banner saying, “No sanctuary: Build the wall” in Lakeland in May 2018, according to the database.
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The group also reportedly posted flyers near Keiser University in Lakeland in 2017.
The list ascribes several incidents to Goyim Defense League, an anti-Semitic collective. Members distributed propaganda as part of “an anti-Semitic tour” in 2021, ADL reports, with incidents in Winter Haven and Davenport. The literature reportedly included vulgar statements about Jews and their religious practices.
In March 2020, the New Jersey European Heritage Association, an “alt-right” group, distributed propaganda in Lakeland that read: "Open borders is the virus," ADL reported.
Some of the recorded incidents apparently did not involve established groups. In August 2021, a student “affiliated with a religious campus group” harassed two Jewish students at a tabling event, using anti-Semitic and Holocaust-related language, the database says. It does not identify the school.
Vinlanders Social Club, identified as a racist skinhead crew, held a private New Year’s Eve party in Lakeland in 2020, according to the ADL list. Another entry says an anti-Semitic “and conspiracy-filled” letter was faxed to an academic department at Florida Southern College in 2017. The sender is not identified.
In 2019, an unidentified person placed a sign in a residential lawn in Haines City that read “Happy 4th of Jew=Lie,” according to the database.
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The spreadsheet includes one incident of an alleged white supremacist clashing with law enforcement. Deputies with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office fatally shot Francis Perry of Winter Haven in 2016 after he began shooting during a traffic stop. Perry had reportedly told law-enforcement officers he was part of the white supremacist movement, The Ledger reported at the time.
In Wednesday’s release, ADL Center on Extremism documented 207 extremist-related incidents in Florida in 2021, compared to 121 the previous year.
“The dramatic increase was largely fueled by increased distribution of white supremacist propaganda by an interconnected network of extremist groups,” ADL said in a news release. Those groups included existing neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups such as the Goyim Defense League, the New Jersey European Heritage Association, NSDAP and the National Socialist Movement, the report said, as well as newer groups like White Lives Matter, Sunshine State Nationalists and NatSoc Florida.
The group’s activities range from propaganda distribution and banner drops to in-person demonstrations, the release said, and are often carefully coordinated with one another.
“Extremist activity is surging across our state, which should be extremely troubling to all,” Sarah Emmons, ADL Florida Regional Director, said in the release. “It’s critical that our leadership, government officials and all Floridians firmly denounce hateful rhetoric and condemn antisemitism and extremism whenever and wherever it occurs and demonstrate allyship towards each other.”
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Amid statewide rise, ADL documents extremist activity in Polk County