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Last month, for several long days, many members of the American Jewish community were seized with fear at a “National Day of Hate” organized by neo-Nazis.

Jewish leaders and law enforcement officials have urged community members to be vigilant after a little-known white nationalist group announced plans for an anti-Semitic day of action on February 25.

But the day came and went without incident, raising questions about whether, in spotlighting the event, mainstream organizations such as the American Defamation League helped cancel it or gave its organizers undue publicity, which many fringe groups dream of.

The ADL, a leading anti-hate group, says its “public advice and advocacy” prompted some extremists to stay home rather than attend the anti-Semitic event.

“This is a success and a victory for the Jewish community to keep our communities safe,” an ADL spokesperson said in a statement to VOA.

But critics say that by magnifying Hate Day, advocacy groups, law enforcement and the media have played into white nationalists’ strategy of intimidating their victims and attracting publicity with what is not is often nothing more than waterfalls.

Warnings about the so-called Hate Day “made national headlines, became one of the hottest topics on social media in the United States, scared the Jewish community and led to a security nationwide,” Network researchers said. Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) wrote in a recent report.

Seed planted on Telegram

The episode began on Jan. 4, when an Iowa-based white nationalist group calling itself “Crew 319” took to the Telegram messaging app to announce plans for a “National Hate Day” on February 25, urging subscribers to join “a day of MASS ANTISEMITIC ACTION.

“Shock the masses with falling banners, stickers, flyers and graffiti,” the post read. “Inaction is unacceptable.”

It was not the first time that a neo-Nazi group had pushed for a “day of action”. In recent years, “White Lives Matter”, a relatively new network of white supremacists, has popularized “days of action” with rallies and the distribution of propaganda.

But the 319 crew call fell flat. With just a few hundred Telegram subscribers, the group barely registered on anyone’s radar, according to extremism researcher Ben Lorber of the social justice think tank Political Research Associates.

“Spending some time on their online spaces, it was clear that it was a small group with a handful of people at most,” Lorber said in an interview with VOA.

The warnings spread

NCRI researchers have studied how the group’s call to action went from an obscure message on Telegram to a trending social media topic.

They found that the clique’s initial post generated around 20 likes on Telegram. And when a week later he reposted the ad, he received even fewer likes – 11.

Additionally, white nationalist groups such as the National Socialist Movement largely ignored the announcement.

“There was no momentum around it,” Lorber said. “It was going to be nothing. But all of a sudden the national media made it a huge thing.

The turning point came on February 9, more than a month after Crew 319’s initial post, when the ADL highlighted the planned observance in a series of tweets.

Informing its supporters that it had “monitored plans for an anti-Semitic day of action,” the ADL wrote that the proposed “National Hate Day” had been “endorsed and shared online by various extremist groups.” .

“If at any time you feel you may be in danger, contact law enforcement,” the ADL wrote in one of the tweets. “Jewish institutions should use this event as an appropriate time to review security protocols with staff. »

The ADL is not just another Jewish civil rights organization. Although he has his detractors, he is widely respected and every time he issues a public warning, “people take him very seriously,” Lorber said.

Crew 319 reveled in the attention.

“National Hate Day is already a smash hit even before it happens,” the group wrote on their Telegram channel on February 10.

Communities on the edge

Prior to February 25, the ADL repeatedly published articles on the “National Extremist Hate Day”. He also sent several emails on the day to his mailing list.

“White supremacist groups are trying to organize anti-Semitic activities like a ‘National Day of Hate’ throughout this weekend and especially this Saturday,” ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt warned in an email. email on February 23, urging allies to join in a #ShabbatOfPeaceNotHate.

By then, “National Hate Day” had taken on a life of its own.

Cities with large Jewish communities were on alert.

Police departments from New York to Chicago issued advisories that “circulated among Jews on social media, in WhatsApp chats and via email,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

Prominent lawmakers “have referred to ‘National Hate Day’ in solidarity with the Jewish community,” according to the NCRI report.

And while there’s no evidence that major white nationalist organizations intended to participate, news outlets reported that “neo-Nazi groups” planned to “target” Jews with a “National Day.” of hatred”.

The Jewish community was on edge.

“This weekend will be difficult for the Jewish people,” Rabbi Abram Goodstein tweeted from Alaska on Feb. 23.

With increased online discussion of National Hate Day, the term became one of the most popular terms on Twitter over the weekend of February 25, according to analysis by the NCRI.

On Twitter, the term was mentioned in more than 104,000 tweets and retweets and garnered tens of millions of impressions.

On TikTok, the hashtag #nationaldayofhate received nearly 100,000 views and #dayofhate nearly 700,000 views, according to the NCRI.

In the face of mounting public anxiety, even bands that hadn’t anticipated the violence felt compelled to release something.

“The Wednesday night before Saturday, Day of Hate reached such a crescendo that we said OK, we better post something. Let’s try to alleviate some of the fear that’s out there,” said Mitch Silber, executive director of Community Security Initiative.

Yet the dreaded mass anti-Semitic action did not take place.

“Fortunately, nothing happened despite widespread fear,” said NCRI senior intelligence analyst Alex Goldenberg.

Public warnings were ‘necessary’, some say

The next day, Crew 319 took to Telegram to claim, without proof, that “tons of people” participated in the event and that they would soon post a video of the day.

He has yet to produce the promised video. And Goldenberg said he hadn’t seen any evidence to suggest “National Hate Day was different from any other weekend we typically see in the United States.”

In the days that followed, however, the NCRI and other extremism researchers seized on the event to highlight the dangers of amplifying what they call “low-signal extremist content.”

“Raising excessive or inflated alarm amplifies extremist causes with unnecessary attention, potentially increasing the chances of acceleration,” the NCRI researchers wrote.

“In their view, they sought to ‘shock the masses’ and the amplification helped them succeed.”

Goldenberg said the amplification may have given white supremacists something to celebrate.

“What happens on February 25 next year? said Goldenberg. “Are they going to come together, (and) galvanize around this next year or the year after? And if they do, who is responsible? »

The ADL stands by its public advocacy.

“Publishing public notices is not something the ADL does lightly,” an ADL spokesperson said in a statement to VOA. “Precisely because we take seriously the importance of not amplifying extremist threats or traumatizing the Jewish community, we send the vast majority of our extremism-related alerts directly to law enforcement. In this case, we believe that going public was not only necessary, but successfully helped prevent a worse situation.

Others involved in security preparation for ‘National Day of Hate’ say post-mortem criticism amounts to a ‘Monday morning quarterback’ – an American sports analogy to level criticism in hindsight .

“I think if, God forbid, something happened, people wouldn’t say that,” said Evan Bernstein, national director and CEO of Community Security Service, a volunteer security organization that works with more than 200 synagogues in across the country.

For Marc Katz, the rabbi of a synagogue in Bloomfield, New Jersey, the “National Day of Hate” was close to home.

In January, a man wearing a ski mask threw a Molotov cocktail at the door of the synagogue before fleeing. The attack caused superficial damage but shook the congregation.

“The ‘National Day of Hate’ has revived the faithful,” Katz said in an interview with VOA. “Someone came to my office in tears. People were rightly nervous.

In response, local police added extra patrols over the weekend, and the synagogue adopted a closed-doors policy during services.

“Hate Day is a strange name for this day,” Katz said. “And deep down I always wondered whether or not we were being trolled. Something happened almost as if it was meant to panic the Jewish community more than it was a real day that was scheduled to wreak havoc.

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.

Hate Day raises questions about amplifying extremist content

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