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Stay-At-Home Protests Draw Extremists Groups, Anti-Hate Group Says

Protester' sign at the Capitol last week
Mike Miletich
Quincy Media Capitol Bureau
Protester' sign at the Capitol last week

White supremacist organizations have infiltrated stay-at-home  protests such as  those in Springfield and Chicago last week, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. 

David Goldenberg, the Midwest regional director of the ADL, says over the last two weeks the center has tracked dozens of rallies to protest stay-at-home orders across the country, including in Illinois. “They’ve attracted a good number of members who are members of extremist organizations,’’ he said.

“There's evidence of extremists who are using these rallies to broadcast their beliefs,” he said. “And, frankly, it's the pervasiveness and the extensive media coverage of lockdown protests, which actually represents, a minority opinion in Illinois and in the United States. But it's created these irresistible public platforms for extremists, and we've aeen them taking advantage of them.” 

Members  of extremist groups appear to have been those protests with signs featuring swastikas and other hate messages, including one at the state Capitol, which read Heil, Pritzker.

“You have a democratically elected governor who happens to be Jewish and you're using Nazi references to attack him or compare him to Hitler,” he said. “We are deeply concerned about this sort of trend,’’ he said, speaking of swastikas and Hitler references at rallies.

Gov.  J.B .Pritzker said during a briefing on Saturday that some of protestors may have been ignorant of the meaning of the symbols, but they offensive in any case.

“The proliferation of anti semitism broadly feeds into this, where we've seen dramatic increases in recent years of anti-semitic incidents in the Midwest,’’ Goldenberg said. “Between 2016 and 2018, we saw a 110% increase in anti-semitic incidents. And so when you see numbers like that, and then you start seeing these types of signs, with Nazi references and swastikas, which is a clear hate symbol,  either it's concerning that people don't realize the hatefulness behind these messages, or in the event that they do know exactly what these messages mean, and they're being intentful, it's quite concerning.” 

Leaders, he said, need to not speak in terms that feeds into hate groups.

“Words matter. Using failed extremist language or explicit Nazi references or racist messages calling this the Wuhan virus or other derogatory terms like that intend to targeting the Chinese or Asian American communities. They have real consequences. And they play out, not in just 140 characters on Twitter, but they play out in real life in these types of

of protests.  They create such tension within a community that things can spill over to from online to real-life presence to harassment, vandalism and assault,” Goldenberg said.

Meanwhile, Illinois' House Republican Leader Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, says it was offensive for those protestors to liken Illinois’ governor to Hitler.

“What I saw from a few individuals was nothing less than despicable. I saw signs that were mean spirited, which brought back memories of the Holocaust.’’ He said at an unrelated press conference today (Wednesday.)

“There's no no place for that anywhere in society. I hope those individuals who displayed those signs can look in the mirror and see whether or not what they've done has helped move this process along.”

Copyright 2020 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.