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SPLC extremism expert says 'scary' Central Florida neo-Nazis are a failing group


The National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi organization now based in Central Florida, rallied in Orlando over the weekend, waiving Nazi flags and spewing anti-Jewish hatred.

Susan Corke, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, studies extremism. She shared insights into the group and the rise in anti-Semitism.

A 'scary' group but a 'failing' one, too

Corke says the National Socialist Movement is "a pretty scary group."

"They're one of this country's oldest neo-Nazi groups. They have their roots in the original American Nazi Party, which was founded in 1959. And ... as you know from the rally this weekend, they openly idealize Hitler," she said.

They were part of the deadly Unite the Right riot in Charlotteville, Virginia, in 2017.

But they've been on the decline since then, she says. "So one thing I would want to stress is that they do these kinds of very public provocative, violent-rhetoric demonstrations in part to make themselves seem bigger than they are."

How to counter the hatred exhibited in the neo-Nazi rally

No. 1, Corke says: "Any leader in a position of political power should immediately condemn anti-Semitism wherever it occurs."

For that reason, she says Gov. Ron DeSantis "should have just immediately condemned it."

"Number two, is this group is small and dwindling. We need to deprive them of the oxygen they're trying to get. I would urge communities to respond by remaining centered on survivors and the victims of hate and bias and consolidating around them build community resilience around them."

An increase in anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Florida

Corke has been tracking anti-Jewish hatred for years. And it seems to increase every year, she says.

"You know, I'm familiar with the Anti-Defamation League's statistics saying that in Florida over the past year anti-Semitic incidents have increased by 40%, which is very shocking in a short amount of time."

But the context matters, too, she says. "[W]hen there's a high profile event like this, following the hostage taking at the synagogue, the message of fear that it creates for the community is much, much bigger than the actual incidents themselves."

Finally, Corke puts part of the blame at the feet of former President Donald Trump. She says his rhetoric made space for the hateful speech in society.

"And you know, I have to say that, you know, Trump unleashed a lot of this, that a lot of these hate groups got a lot of momentum out of Trump's violent rhetoric against different races, different religions, different ideologies."

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.