Messages of hate found in driveways, on web

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Rick Eaton, director of research at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights organization researching hate, in Los Angeles, talks during a program Thursday, March 28, at Temple Jeremiah in Northfield. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Scott Britton walked out to driveway to get his Sunday newspaper, only to find near it a plastic bag filled with rice (to keep it from blowing away) and anti-Semitic literature.

Britton, a Glenview resident and Cook County commissioner, said he was disturbed by the neo-Nazi information in his driveway.

“And I was also thinking about what my friends and neighbors who are Jewish would be thinking about getting this at their homes,” Britton said, “because it was bad enough for me and I’m Catholic.”

The 2022 incident led Britton to start the group Cook County Against Hate, which looks to squelch all forms of hate throughout the county.

A Thursday, March 28, program of Cook County Against Hate in Northfield featured Rick Eaton, director of research at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights organization researching hate, in Los Angeles. The center is named for a Jewish Austrian Holocaust survivor, who became a Nazi hunter and writer.

The center’s most recent annual report on digital terrorism and hate gives ‘F’ grades to the online platforms Telegram, Skun, AnonUp, Gab and Brighteon.

Twitter and both netted ‘D-’ grades from the center.

TikTok got a ‘D.’

Facebook/Instagram netted a ‘C’ grade.

Of the major platform players, Google/YouTube ranked the highest, earning a ‘B-.’

“Telegram is absolutely one of the worst sites online (for hate speech). It is based in the (United Arab Emirates) and they allow just about everything. Unlike Facebook and Google and others, there is no policy department. There is nobody to talk to, and we find white supremacists, Nazis, terrorists, you name it.”

Eaton noted that the hate organization White Lives Matter has Illinois branches and has chat sessions on Telegram.

“You have active clubs right here in Illinois, right in the Chicago area,” Eaton said. “Windy City Nationalists is a nationalist group but they’re also a fight club.”

Riverland, Eaton said, is a white supremacist group that covers Missouri and Illinois.

Eaton said what was interesting about the anti-Sematic pieces dropped in Britton’s driveway and other north suburban locations was that the rhetoric was localized.

“They usually use the same rhetoric. They have like a dozen different ones that say everything COVID is Jewish, that everything Disney is Jewish, that everything LGBTQ is Jewish,” the Wiesenthal Center director said. “In these, they used the same rhetoric, same language, the same concept but they very much personalized them. They made them about local Illinois politics, about law enforcement, what Jews are in law enforcement. They targeted a couple of medical centers … It’s one of the few areas where we’re seen this happen.”

Eaton said it is too late if parents are waiting until their children are in high school or late middle school to shield them from messages of hate.

“Most of us didn’t think about crazy stuff in fifth grade. We were worried about who we were sitting next to in lunch and who we were playing with at recess, but unfortunately today most of these kids have phones and they’re subjected to this stuff,” Eaton said. “Parents need to take a serious look and have a talk with their kids at a relatively young age and try to keep track of what’s going on on their phones.”

Eaton said parent forums are a good way to get information to adults about the dangers of hate their children face through websites, gaming platforms and other avenues.

Britton said Cook County United Against Hate has been reaching out to libraries, schools, and other venues to set up informational programs for parents.

Britton said his 20-year-old has come to him with information the college student has read on TikTok about anti-vaccination supporters, and it has opened up conversations for them.

“I will address those with him and say, ‘Look, you need to do more of a deep dive on this,’” Briton said. “I try to do it as a conversation, not a pronouncement.”

“Parents need to know what they’re up against,” Eaton said.