NEW YORK (JTA) — Fliers blaming Jews for the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared in seemingly random locations around the country last week.
“Every time some Anti-White, Anti-American, Anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it,” the fliers read.
They showed an image of the judge surrounded by caricatures of Jewish senators with Stars of David drawn on their foreheads, as well as the Jewish billionaire George Soros, a frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
The fliers say they are “Brought to you by your local Stormer Book Club.”
The Anti-Defamation League has confirmed that the posters appeared on college campuses and at organizations in six states: California, Iowa, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Illinois. The organization behind them claims they put up the posters in seven additional states.
How did the fliers turn up in such a wide array of places and who put them up? JTA spoke with experts from the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, two civil rights organizations that do research on anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups.
What are Stormer Book Clubs?
Though the name implies a literature discussion group, that’s not exactly what the clubs are about. Organized by the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site founded by white supremacist Andrew Anglin, they promote spreading anti-Semitic propaganda and other bigoted messages.
Anglin proposed creating the groups in 2016, to build “a real-life troll army” to support his message, according to the Anti-Defamation League. But it wasn’t until the following year that the groups took off, when Daily Stormer contributor Robert Warren Ray took charge and started organizing the network of groups.
The chapters are made up of young white men. No women can join. Members are not allowed to use their real names in person or online and wear a uniform of red New Balance sneakers, jeans, a white T-shirt and an American flag bandanna.
The groups are relatively small and chapters are usually only comprise two to 10 people, said Carla Hill, a senior investigative researcher at the ADL’s Center on Extremism. Based on the latest campaign, she estimates that the group only has about 50 members across the country.
“They struggled a bit to get going, but now it looks like they’re picking up some chapters and we expect more of this type of campaign,” she told JTA on Thursday.
What do they do?
Putting up fliers is one of their favorite activities, said Keegan Hankes, a research analyst at SPLC who focuses on far right online campaigns.
“It’s pretty low risk, and it’s a good way to draw attention to yourselves,” he told JTA on Thursday.
The clubs have run three major flier campaigns this year, including the most recent one, Hill said. All of the campaigns specifically targeted Jews. In September, the group distributed fliers blaming Jews for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones getting kicked off various social media sites. In May, the group put up posters that said Jews were out to get rid of the Second Amendment. The Kavanaugh campaign had the widest reach, Hill said.
Though Jews tend to be their “favorite target,” the book clubs also promote bigotry against people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, women and anyone else who is perceived as “anti-white.”
“It’s just about everybody who’s not a straight white male,” Hankes said.
Do they promote violence?
According to Hankes, the group’s main goal is to spread their message and instill fear in their communities, rather than cause people actual physical harm. It is “unlikely” that members take violent action, he said.
However, he said that there have been individual cases where individuals with alleged ties to the Daily Stormer committed real acts of violence, such as Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at a black church in Charleston in 2015, and James Harris Jackson, who killed a black homeless man in New York last year.
“The fliers showing up in a community signals that you have people enthusiastic enough about the Daily Stormer to go out into the physical world and take some action, at least within driving distance of their community,” Hankes said.
How do they compare with other similar groups?
According to Hill, the Stormer Book Clubs are the most overtly anti-Semitic of the “alt-right” segment of the white supremacist movement. They present a less polished and more extreme image than larger groups such as Identity Evropa, which steers clear of neo-Nazi language and imagery to try to position themselves as more moderate.
“They want to get involved in mainstream politics, and be part of the ‘legitimate far right movement in America,’” Hill said of Identity Evropa. “Daily Stormer is not even trying to pretend to do that.”
Hankes said that the Daily Stormer had seen increased traffic since the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump, who is seen by its readers as “a champion for them,” as well as the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.
“They had a really electrified base throughout election,” he said, “and because politics have remained divisive and so contentious and so heated, we really see some of that enthusiasm sustained, and I think it probably will stay that way.”
Still, other signs point towards the weakening of the “alt-right.” In August, only two dozen people showed up to a white supremacist demonstration scheduled for the anniversary of the Charlottesville rally. Organizers had thought some 400 people would attend the event. Instead the small group of white supremacists was vastly outnumbered by thousands of counterprotesters.