Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, September 27, 2019
The bowl-shaped haircut worn by the white supremacist who killed nine black worshipers in Charleston, S.C., stands among the most disturbing and distinctive images that extremists have shared online. Others include letters drawn from the ancient runic alphabet — a particular favorite among neo-Nazis — or slogans like “Diversity=White genocide.”
They are among the many symbols, slogans and memes that white supremacists are deploying as propaganda and which are drawing more scrutiny amid a broader effort to curtail extremist violence in the United States.
On Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League is adding 36 entries to its longstanding online catalog of extremist symbols, many of which are built around racist stereotypes that have been spread about African Americans and Jews.
About 10 of them are the logos of extremist organizations. Several others are numeric codes that can carry hidden messages, like the numbers 109 or 110, anti-Semitic shorthand that claims that Jews have been expelled from 109 countries and that the United States should become the 110th.
The uptick in propaganda is part of the overall spread of far-right ideology and its more public face in recent years. Experts and nongovernmental organizations say that people should be more aware of symbols possibly floating in their midst, whether on the web or in real life on protest posters or T-shirts.
At the same time, they caution that such symbols serve as an imperfect indicator that someone might be drawn to violence. “It is part of the story of the rise of white extremists, but you cannot say that every person who shares one of those memes is going to end up a violent white extremist,” Dr. Miller-Idriss said.
Kevin K. McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Friday that the attacks in El Paso and Poway, Calif., as well as earlier ones in Pittsburgh and Charleston, among others, demonstrated that a growing number of actors seek to harm society and to incite more disaffected youth to violence.
“White supremacist extremism is one of the most potent ideologies driving acts of targeted violence in this country,” he said in a keynote address. Confronting it will be a new priority, he said — although critics are waiting to see how much money the government allocates to the effort.
American communities need better tools to understand such threats and to respond, Mr. McAleenan said, noting government statistics indicating that family members, friends or even bystanders had some inkling about a brewing attack in most cases.
One tool is recognizing symbols used by far-right groups.
Some of them appear innocuous. The O.K. symbol created by touching the forefinger to the thumb, for example, is seen by extremists as forming the letters “WP,” or “white power.”
One reason that experts consider such symbols an imperfect indicator of support for extremism is that not everyone who spreads them, especially young men, might be aware of the history or the potent symbolism behind them.