The Anti-Defamation League provides guidelines to address hate speech and harassment in civic spaces.
Extremists and antisemites are increasingly co-opting the public comment portion of city and town council meetings to spread their hateful beliefs, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In response to this concerning trend, ADL is providing recommendations to help stakeholders prepare for and respond to extremists’ bigoted and disruptive actions at public meetings.
Extremists are targeting city and town council meetings in an attempt to spread fear and expand their reach in the mainstream, according to the new report from the ADL Center on Extremism. Using the same tactics deployed against school board officials, extremists are now harassing individual city council members, particularly those they believe to be Jewish.
“Targeting civic spaces and harassment of community officials undermine and jeopardize our democratic foundations,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “These actions make such public spaces feel unsafe, keep public servants from doing their work and could prevent people from running for office.”
The ADL has created a toolkit to help city and town council members, as well as members of the public, prepare for and respond to extremist and hateful rhetoric. Critical steps include:
- Review and (as appropriate) revise viewpoint-neutral rules for public comment periods, such as setting consistent time limits for each person’s remarks and protocols to address any violent or harassing conduct.
- Denounce hate speech in the moment without repeating it, making clear that such rhetoric is unacceptable.
- After the meeting, communicate transparently with communities, provide time and space for impacted groups to discuss what happened and commit to anti-bias education.
“Extremists have become increasingly visible and emboldened in recent years,” said Oren Segal, Vice President of the ADL Center on Extremism. “Their outrageous actions at local meetings, which amplify bigotry and cause considerable harm to marginalized communities, are just another way anti-semites and other extremists are forcing their way into the public discourse and seeking to intimidate public officials and communities. It’s imperative that we all are united against this onslaught of hate, which is why we’re providing resources to help local communities respond to such bigotry.”
Download the Toolkit for Responding to Extremist Disruptions at Public Meetings at www.adl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/2023-08/ADL-COE-City-Council-Recommendations.pdf.