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.
It’s happening right here in Brattleboro, where an anti-Jewish message was scrawled in chalk on an Elliot Street sidewalk in 2018, and white supremacist leaflets were distributed in Pliny Park last year. We have a self-identified white supremacist 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.
Let’s call it what it is: racism, perhaps emboldened by a president who pandered to white supremacists.
Here in Vermont, we can be more vigilant, more aware and more responsive to incidents of white supremacist propaganda. Quite simply, we can do better.