As antisemitic attacks and white supremacist activity escalate in Massachusetts, the Anti-Defamation League is imploring Beacon Hill policymakers to pass legislation to crack down on hate crimes and online harassment.
Massachusetts logged the country's sixth highest rate of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in 2022, according to a a new report from the ADL Center on Extremism. There were 152 antisemitic incidents last year, compared to 108 in the prior year, marking a 41 percent rise.
Some 71 cities and towns experienced at least one antisemitic incident in 2022, compared to 54 in 2021.
Trailing only Texas, Massachusetts recorded the second highest number of white supremacist propaganda incidents last year, the report found. The distribution of white supremacist propaganda increased by 71 percent from 2021 and 2022 -- rising from 272 instances to 465 -- largely attributed to groups like Patriot Front, the Nationalist Social Club and the Goyim Defense League, according to the report.
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The ADL also labeled Massachusetts a "hotbed for anti-LBTQ+ extremism" after a "considerable" spat of hate incidents, including threats to Boston Children's Hospital surrounding gender-affirming care.
"Extremists have targeted Massachusetts with the intention to instill fear and intimidation through their stunts, propaganda and increasingly aggressive demonstrations," Peggy Shukur, ADL New England interim regional director, said in a statement. "We are pleased that our key elected officials, including Attorney General Andrea Campbell and Governor Maura Healey, are committed to holding those who commit hateful actions accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We call on our civic leadership, government officials and all citizens of the Commonwealth to firmly denounce hateful rhetoric and condemn anti-LGBTQ+ and antisemitic extremism whenever and wherever it occurs."
Healey, in a statement, said her administration is committed to being a "strong partner" to combat hate.
"The State of Hate report puts down on paper what far too many members of our communities experience each and every day â€“ organized hate exists here in Massachusetts," Healey said. "We stand with the LGBTQ+ community, Jewish community, communities of color, and all who are the targets of hate and discrimination."
FBI data show there were 412 reported hate crimes in Massachusetts in 2021, compared to 310 in 2020, the report states. That's an increase of 33 percent.
Patriot Front is a Texas-based white supremacist group, but the ADL said it has become "increasingly active" here due to Massachusetts' connection to the founding of the United States. Members marched through downtown Boston last July, displaying flags, riot shields and banners that read "Reclaim America" and "Strong Families Make Strong Nations."
The Nationalist Social Club, also known as NSC-131, is now one of New England's most active white supremacist groups, according to the report. Members held at least 30 events in Massachusetts over the past two years, including hanging antisemitic banners over highways and protesting outside a drag queen story hour that led to the arrest of the group's leader, Chris Hood.
The People's Initiative of New England, a local activist offshoot of NSC-13, aspires to have a candidate run for local office. Its broader agenda calls for seceding from the country, creating a "white homeland" and stopping non-white immigration, the report states.
A range of other extremist groups continue to operate in the commonwealth, the report said, such as the Black Hebrew Israelite movement and the Nation of Islam, which the ADL describes as a "notoriously antisemitic Black nationalist organization."
Lawmakers can crack down on hate crimes by passing a Sen. William Brownsberger bill (S 914) that would make sex and gender a protected class for criminal prosecution, the report recommends. The ADL also supports bills from Rep. Christine Barber and Sen. Cindy Creem (H 1392 / S 924) that would outline a path for restitution in hate crimes involving property damage.
The ADL recommends that law enforcement agencies be required to report "comprehensive" hate crime data on a quarterly basis, combined with a separate procedure to collect such information from community and advocacy groups, plus civil rights agencies.
The report presses lawmakers to clamp down on rising online harassment against the Jewish community, including doxing, which the ADL defines as the "publishing of private, personally identifiable information with malicious intent." Bills from Rep. Tram Nguyen and Sen. Barry Finegold (H 1707/ S 971), as well as from Sen. Becca Rausch (S 1116), would allow people to seek civil damages from doxing.
State lawmakers can also follow California's example by passing legislation to hold social media platforms accountable and ensure "they are effectively moderating hate and abiding by their own guidelines," the report states, adding that a "lack of transparency" by social media companies "has meant that users and policymakers have no way to know if companies actually abide by and enforce their own policies."
"This rise in extremism is a chilling reminder of the work we have left to do to combat hate and protect our residents," Campbell said in a statement. "My office is committed to standing up for marginalized communities that have been targeted and harmed by hate in all forms, and will use every resource we have available under the law to hold accountable those who make them feel unsafe."