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An alarming report shows rising antisemitism in Pa., days after a white supremacist campaign targeted Port Richmond

A sweeping report from the Anti-Defamation League shows antisemitic incidents increased nationally in 2022. In Pennsylvania, incidents rose 65% and were already observed in Port Richmond this week.

Edgemont and East Clearfield Streets in Port Richmond. Antisemitic and racist fliers were found affixed to light poles in the neighborhood amid a rise in antisemtism in Pennsylvania.
Edgemont and East Clearfield Streets in Port Richmond. Antisemitic and racist fliers were found affixed to light poles in the neighborhood amid a rise in antisemtism in Pennsylvania.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Residents in Port Richmond awoke Monday to find they’d become the site of a white supremacist recruitment campaign.

Hundreds of stickers with racist, antisemitic messages were plastered to poles throughout the neighborhood, including its main shopping corridor, Richmond Street. Some stickers depicted Nazi symbols and ethnic caricatures; others supported Kanye West and his flagrant comments about Jewish people.

According to a sweeping new report from the Anti-Defamation League, these incidents are becoming disturbingly more common.

» READ MORE: From 2022: Hate crimes are soaring. White supremacists have a new recruitment tool: Video games.

Figures from the anti-hate organization showed sharp rises in antisemitic activity nationwide last year. Pennsylvania saw a 65% increase.

The report, released Thursday, details how Pennsylvania and New Jersey broke records when it came to vandalism and harassment targeting Jewish people. With 114 reported incidents in Pennsylvania alone, the amount of activity was the highest in the ADL’s four-plus decades of collecting data.

The figures come on the heels of a national surge in antisemitic violence and harassment last year, when hateful ideology bubbled in the mainstream — from a tense synagogue hostage crisis in the plains of Texas to the commingling of prominent entertainers, politicians, and white nationalists in Palm Beach, Fla.

“The reality is, hate in all its forms is normalized,” said Andrew Goretsky, the ADL’s regional director. “I used to say it’s becoming normalized. I no longer say it’s becoming normalized.”

Philadelphia had the most reported incidents in the southeastern region, with 34, followed by Montgomery County’s 24. Statewide, many incidents were classified as harassment — slurs, stereotypes, and conspiracy theories directed at Jewish people. But 29 were instances of vandalism, more than half involving the depiction of swastikas.

In New Jersey, last year’s incidents also hit a high. More than 200 instances of harassment were reported, along with 155 vandalisms. While no assaults were reported in Pennsylvania, nine occurred in New Jersey.

According to Goretsky, the increases correlate with a distressing trend: From 2019 to 2022, the percentage of Americans nationwide who believed in a handful of conspiracy theories about Jewish people rose to 20%.

Incidents like the one in Port Richmond, where white nationalist groups distribute propaganda to drum up new recruits, are also becoming commonplace.

A 33-year-old Port Richmond resident named Matt — who asked that his last name be omitted for fear of retaliation — spent time removing stickers with a box-cutter Monday and Tuesday. He reckons he got about 100.

Matt first saw the stickers at East Cambria and Edgemont Streets. Soon, he found others along Lehigh Avenue and slapped onto tables at Powers Park, home to the Richmond Library.

A lover of public art and graffiti, he took a closer look.

One sticker referenced the supposed “Great Replacement” of white Americans orchestrated by Jewish people, a conspiracy theory espoused by far-right pundits that has inspired racially motived mass shootings from Christchurch to Buffalo.

“It’s Proud Boy-adjacent,” Matt said, referencing the exclusively male neofascist organization.

Of four groups alleged to be responsible for the sticker campaign, at least one promoted the Jan. 6 rally that lead to riots at the U.S. Capitol and has engaged in disruptive activity in New Jersey.

Another is an “active club,” a group mimicking the popular movie Fight Club where members receive MMA-style training to fight against perceived threats of a modern, diverse society.

There were eight similar incidents in the Philadelphia region last year, according to Goretsky, and four already this year, counting Port Richmond. Among the states, Pennsylvania ranked first for these types of propaganda campaigns in 2021, though last year it was fifth.

Wyndmoor, Cheltenham, and Laverock in Montgomery County have been targeted with white nationalist materials, Goretsky said. A campaign could result in 50 fliers distributed, or 300.

Anti-hate groups first noticed activity spiking in 2018. That year, 11 people died when a white supremacist opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history.

For the last three years, data collected on antisemitism in Pennsylvania shattered records. Still, true numbers are likely higher.

“We know these types of incidents still go underreported,” Goretsky said. “They haven’t reported it to the school, they haven’t reported it to the police, they haven’t reported it to the ADL.”

Goretsky urged anyone who comes across hateful stickers or fliers to report them to both the ADL and law enforcement.

Meanwhile, Matt is not surprised that his newly adopted home was targeted, given what he’s observed in his two years in Port Richmond.

Some residents, he hears, are concerned about creeping gentrification. Others are still upset over looting that took place at a nearby Walmart during the 2020 protests that erupted after Philadelphia police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr.

Still, he’s seen neighbors decry the campaign, helping to remove the stickers.

“They have a lot of boogeymen in their lives,” Matt said. “A lot of people are telling them, ‘They’re coming for me, they’re coming for you.’ [The stickers] are just taking that one step further.”