The leader of a white supremacist group that has spread racist and anti-Semitic flyers throughout central New Jersey claims his Garden State chapter is among his largest and most active.

In and around New Jersey, that amounts to a few dozen members, said Dylan Hopper, who described himself as president and chief executive officer of the hate group known as Vanguard America.

Those members have made their presence known over and over again in New Jersey, catching the attention not only of upset community members, but local authorities.

Vanguard America is described as a hate-driven white supremacist group by the Anti-Defamation League. The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security says it's tried to "rebrand" since 2016 in hopes of luring in more recruits who can help in its efforts to intimidate minority populations. Thathas included distributing materials on New Jersey college campuses.

The Homeland Security office notes its fundamentally bigoted credo — and its focus on "blood and soil," a favorite slogan of the Nazi party.

Hopper described his group to New Jersey 101.5 as one of "national socialists" — the political doctrine of the Nazis — and fascists. He said his group is allied with, though not directly partnered with, the KKK — and lamented that the association brings up negative imagery ("Their image has been demonized so much in the media for the last 100 years that it's not quite beneficial to work alongside them," he said).

The New York Times and others reported last month James Alex Fields Jr. — the white supremacist accused of running down Heather Heyer during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia — was marching along with Vanguard America members. But the group also denied Fields was a member on its now-suspended Twitter account.

The group in its manifesto says “a government based in the natural law must not cater to the false notion of equality."

Hopper claimed his group has about 200 members nationwide. And he claimed that each time its members take on activities like spreading anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim flyers like those seen central New Jersey, those numbers grow.

"Our numbers have just exploded due to this Charlottesville incident," he said. "We're getting dozens and dozens of applications for our group everyday."

New Jersey incidents

The group's name is cited on materials spread around several central New Jersey towns including Lakewood, Princeton and most recently Asbury Park.

Lakewood: In July, photos posted online by the state chapter of the Anti-Defamation League showed the banner covering a Holocaust memorial in Lakewood, less than a week after several residents of Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community were charged with welfare fraud.

A message on the covering included an ethnic slur for Jewish people and they “will not divide us.” Underneath that was, Vanguard America's website. The site no longer appears accessible; many white supremacist groups's sites have been taken offline by web hosting companies in recent weeks.

The same week, flyers were passed around town complaining of “thieving Jews" — an apparent reference to the welfare fraud arrests.

At the time, Attorney General Christopher Porrino retweeted an ADL post about the incidents, calling them “disgusting” and saying that a $10,000 reward was available for information that could lead to a conviction for bias crimes. Porrino did not elaborate on the possible charges those involved in this specific incident might face.

Princeton University: In April, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic flyers were found on the doors of several buildings including the school's Center for Jewish Life. Officials removed the flyers, but hours later Vanguard America tweeted out an image of one singling out Princeton University's Jewish population, according to reports at the time.

It also targeted Arab people, bi-racial children and women, according to reports at the time.

Daniel Day, the assistant vice president for communications at the school, told New Jersey 101.5 Princeton reached out to its community with a statement condemning the flyers.

"We value mutual respect here and deplore messages of hatred," he said.

But he acknowledged it's difficult to prevent such incidents there.

"It's really difficult to bottle these up before they get to campus," he said. "Any incidence like this are reprehensible. We just hope we don't see any more of it."

Rutgers University: In February, the University sent out an alert to students, saying several members of the school community had reported "that they were offended and threatened" by flyers posted at the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, which also serves as a prayer space on campus.

Those flyers were attributed to American Vanguard. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Vanguard America splintered off from American Vanguard in a split among its membership.

The school said that following its standard protocol, university police removed the flyers and referred the matter to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office for review.

The flyers called for a "Muslim-free America," according to a report by Similar flyers were also distributed at several other colleges, according to multiple reports.

The flyer "violate the values and ideals for which Rutgers stands," the university told its community. "We strongly condemn this kind of speech and are appalled that our Muslim community was targeted in this way."

Asbury Park: Just last month, police were reportedly looking for information on Vanguard America flyers that had appeared in Asbury Park. One was headlined "Hate Facts with Hitler, brought to you by Vanguard America," and included several points meant to be derogatory to Jews and Muslims, NBC New York reported.

Why central New Jersey?

Hopper said some of his group's activities are coordinated at the national level, some at the state level, and some within smaller districts.

But he said for the most part, his organization's individual groups operate "autonomously upon their own free will and accord."

"All the feedback that we get, our members interpret as positive," he said. "We get applications. We can see spikes every time we go and poster a school, every time we get those posters on the evening news, even locally."

Potter said the group sees attention — even hostile attention and condemnations — as a chance to raise its profile.

"The way we interpret it, is the more they attack us, the more they give us publicity," he said. "And the more they push our image out there and say that we are so evil and wicked and they're trying to demonize us, that's just going to help us because it's going to push more people to our ideal."

He claimed that's "because (critics are) showing their true colors of how it's not even about hating fascists or hating nationalist socialists or any of those political labels," but rather, about hating white people.

It is illegal?

In its description "The Face of White Supremacy in 2017," the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security listed Vanguard America among the groups that have grown out of Internet message boards and expanded their activities "to include distributing recruitment posters on campuses and inciting violence at protests and rallies across the United States."

It noted the confrontational, racially charged language used by the group on its website: “Our religion, our traditions and our identity are dragged through the mud by the globalist establishment, while millions of nonwhites flood our nation every year. ... It’s time to take a stand.”

Hopper said whenever possible, he encourages his members to abide by the law.

"I don't want any of my members doing anything unlawful or illegal. If they do or are caught they are instantly booted from a group," he said.

He said he didn't remember the specifics of the incident, but said one member voluntarily left the group before vandalizing a "Jewish religious center."

"Luckily, he willingly left the organization and rebranded himself as a lone wolf before it happened," he said. "That's our policy. If you're going to go out and do anything stupid like, that don't drag our name down with you."

Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato said law enforcement works to find a balance between allowing people to express their right to free speech and determining when that free speech crosses the line into a potential bias crime, or the incitement of hatred and biased crimes.

"When these flyers appear, whether it's in Lakewood or in Ocean County, we monitor them," he said. "I think that's the reason why we would at least look at the flyer, to understand what's going on and then react accordingly based on what's contained in the flyer."

Coronato said such issues come up from time to time, and that it is something his office and other law enforcement agencies regularly monitor.

"It's something that's out there, that's existed," he said. "Sometimes it seems to be a little more prevalent. Other times it seems to wane a little bit. But it's something that's on our radar that we want to track and we want to stay in touch with."

Coronato said with activity by hate groups popping up in several places, law enforcement is working together to monitor the situation and determine how best to respond to ensure everyone's safety.

"The bottom line is this. it's upon us to communicate between the different agencies so we get a better picture of what is occurring," he said. "From what I've seen so far, it seems to be more in isolation and not so much an organized event."

— Also with reporting by Louis Hochman

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