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In light of the Jacksonville shooting, here's how hate groups have grown in Florida

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's turn now to other developments in Florida, where more details are still emerging about that racist and deadly attack in Jacksonville over the weekend. A white gunman who had espoused extremist views opened fire in a Dollar General store, killing three people, all of them Black. City officials have been clear. They say hate has no place in Jacksonville. But during the last year, some organizations have staged increasingly brazen displays of hate in that city and across the state. NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef is here. And, Odette, just fill me in here. What kind of activities are we talking that extremists have undertaken in Jacksonville?

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Well, prior to this shooting, the most brazen recent display was the projection of a giant cross and swastika onto a downtown building in Jacksonville, which prompted the city council to pass legislation barring those kind of projections onto private property without the owner's consent. But that stunt has been repeated elsewhere in Florida, and it's an example both of how emboldened the movement has become in that state and of how they're coordinating with each other. So, you know, you may recall just this past June, neo-Nazis were waving flags outside the entrance to Disney World.

KELLY: Yeah.

YOUSEF: But I will note that Jacksonville authorities say that so far there's no evidence that the suspect in the Jacksonville shooting was connected to a large group. But the tragedy is happening at a time that Florida really is at the leading edge of a resurgence of extremist activity in this country.

KELLY: When you say at the leading edge, what's the data? What are the numbers to back that up?

YOUSEF: Well, the Anti-Defamation League has documented over 700 instances of white supremacist propaganda within the last five years. So that includes things like flyering and banner drops. But also, antisemitic incidents have nearly doubled in that state between 2020 and 2022. Another organization that tracks hate, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has documented 89 hate and anti-government groups in Florida in 2022. And that trails only California. And actually, we know that that count is incomplete. For example, we know one antisemitic group called the Goyim Defense League announced last year that they were moving from California to Florida. So, you know, this is all contributing to an environment where some minorities are feeling unsafe. You know, just last May, we saw a number of organizations, including the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign, all issue travel and relocation warnings for Florida.

KELLY: Why? I mean, why does Florida seem to be such fertile ground for these groups, these movements to spread their messages?

YOUSEF: Well, to start, Florida is diverse. And to extremists, that translates to being target-rich. But there's another key thing here that relates to how extremists and their movements operate. Here's Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League.

OREN SEGAL: Extremists never miss an opportunity to exploit a public discussion, and many of those happening in Florida are consistent with their agenda.

YOUSEF: So, Mary Louise, you know, specifically, they're finding common cause with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis', quote, "war on woke," this agenda that further marginalizes Black people and their history and trans voices and so on.

KELLY: Well, and on that, I should note, I know Governor DeSantis has condemned this most recent violence. He's also condemned targeting people based on their race.

YOUSEF: Yes. And he's also bolstered measures to combat antisemitism in Florida. But he's also been at the leading edge of anti-trans state legislation in a state where trans people and their allies are increasingly unsafe. Here's Cassie Miller of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

CASSIE MILLER: We shouldn't see demonstrations against LGBTQ-inclusive spaces and things like racist violence as separate. They're all aimed at creating fear among the targeted groups. This is all part of a broader political project.

YOUSEF: And so this idea that the political hard right can just peel off one group for protections but target another - you know, it ends up making all of these groups unsafe.

KELLY: Thank you, Odette.

YOUSEF: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Odette Yousef. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.