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Are there active hate groups in Connecticut?

From 2019 to 2020, the Anti-Defamation League tracked 193 incidents of hate, extremism and anti-Semitism in Connecticut, ranging from a July 2020 murder in Hartford in which the accused, Jerry David Thompson, claimed to belong to an extremist movement that believes the government has no authority, to putting up fliers and disseminating propaganda.

Last year, ADL reported the highest level of white supremacist propaganda circulated in the U.S. in at least a decade, and reader Gary Trahan asked if there are active white supremacist or domestic extremist groups in the region and Connecticut. That question received the most votes in the latest round of The Day's CuriousCT feature.

The "biggest perpetrator" of propaganda distribution in Connecticut is the alt-right group Patriot Front, said Steve Ginsburg, director of the ADL's Connecticut office. In one incident reported by ADL on Dec. 31, 2020, Patriot Front distributed propaganda in Jewett City that read: "One nation against invasion," "America is not for sale," "Not stolen conquered" and "Life of our nation. Liberty of our people. Victory of the American spirit."

Ginsburg said the ADL also has reported activities by Connecticut members of the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers, both anti-government extremist groups that are part of the militia movement.

Earlier this year, a group that identified itself as the far-right, male-only extremist group the Proud Boys attempted to donate more than 500 pounds of food to the nonprofit Hands On Hartford.

Related story: Sub base hits pause to talk about extremism in the ranks

ADL determines someone as "actively" involved in a hate group if they spread the group's ideology or help recruit new members, among other actions. While historically these groups convened in person, "now we are at a point where they can be sitting in basements and identifying themselves as part of these groups," Ginsburg said.

That makes it difficult "to know real total numbers," he said.

The actions taken by these groups and their members are not always violent, Ginsburg said, though those are the incidents ADL is most concerned about. Being active could mean planning a "banner drop" over a highway or a peaceful protest, he said.

"Our main point of concern is violence across the spectrum," Ginsburg said. "Most of the violence comes from white supremacist and what is called right-wing ideology."

Hate crimes in the U.S. rose to the highest level in more than a decade, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported last year.

The FBI also has seen a rise in domestic extremism nationwide in recent years, said Supervisory Special Agent Marcus Clark with the agency's New Haven division.

"On the domestic terrorism side, there's been an evolution away from the large group conspiracies that people often think of toward more of a lone offender attack without any clear affiliation to a group," Clark said. "That makes it more difficult for us to identify and disrupt."

The agency relies on its partners, including state and local law enforcement agencies, and even nongovernment organizations and community groups, to help share information about suspected domestic extremists.

The internet and social media have helped to radicalize domestic terrorists, Clark said, given the speed and reach with which their messages and ideology can be disseminated online.

In Connecticut, Senate Democrats are seeking to create a new department within the state police focused on combating hate crimes and violent right-wing extremism.

Some of the perpetrators, but not all, involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are accused of having ties to or expressing support for hate groups and antigovernment militias.

Ginsburg contrasted those involved in the Jan. 6 attack with participants in the "Unite the Right" rally that occurred in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., which was "almost purely a convening of extremists."

"That's what it was marketed as. That's who it appealed to," he said. "Even before they started marching, ADL shared with law enforcement half the people who were coming because we knew them because we follow these extremist groups."

ADL's investigators knew only a "small portion" of those involved in the Capitol attack, he said.

"A lot of them are not extremists. The question is: Did January 6 start a new type of extremist ideology called 'I'm just going to believe in Donald Trump'?" Ginsburg said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

j.bergman@theday.com

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