In the darkest corners of the internet, a movement is growing, which experts say is motivated by hate.
As part of an ongoing series “The State of Hate” Fox 4 Investigates is searching for the cause in the rise in extremism in the sunshine state.
“This is very much a problem,” said Megan Squire, a fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit that tracks extremists and hate groups.
Squire describes much of her work taking place online, searching through an interconnected web of hate.
“These folks are weaponizing those platforms and they’re really creating harms,” Squire said.
Sometimes the harms are done online.
Research shows white supremacists and extremists have used cartoonish memes to spread hateful ideology.
Other times, the groups come together in person.
When the Anti-Defamation League released their report on “Hate in the Sunshine State” last year, Fox 4 Investigates was the first to report on how the group was shocked to learn how closely various hate groups had started working together.
“What we’ve seen is a lot of groups that, in the past, may have worked separately from one another are now working in conjunction to spread propaganda and hold in-person demonstrations,” said Ben Popp, a researcher with the ADL.
According to numbers released by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, there were 148 hate crimes reported in the state in 2021, the most recent year data was available.
With 14, Lee County had the second most in the state behind only Miami-Dade County and tied with Hillsborough.
More than half of the local hate crimes were targeting the victim’s race, according to the state.
Meanwhile, the ADL’s report also tracked the number of times demonstrations were held or propaganda was passed out in Florida communities.
That group found more than 200 incidents in the state in 2021.
“That’s the large majority of incidents that we’ve seen is white supremacist propaganda,” Popp said. “These people are printing flyers and putting stickers in public places so that they can spread their ideology that way.”
One more way many of these groups are connected is through their funding.
Squire says crypto currency, which is largely untraceable, has become the go-to source for extremists to raise money.
“Crypto currency is the currency of the realm,” Squire said. “I cannot list a single group or person that we study that isn’t involved in crypto currency in some way.”