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The Year in Hate: A review of 2015
Author: Will in Chicago    Date: 2016-04-07 10:37:54

The current presidential election has shown us much – good and bad – about life in the U.S. One of the worst aspects of life in the past year has been a rise in the number of hate groups in our nation. Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report called “The Year in Hate 2015.”

Yet despite the growing number of extremist groups, the SLPC reports some successes in opposing hate. One thing that I think helps create opposition to hatred is that we can now document incidents such as the attack on a protester by Donald Trump supporters. The Internet and social media now makes it easy to share reports of hateful incidents and rally people to oppose those who advocate hatred of others.

SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok offers some thoughts on events over the last year.

Anyone who read the newspapers last year knows that 2015 saw some horrific political violence.

A white supremacist murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. Islamist radicals killed four U.S. Marines in Chattanooga, Tenn., and 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. An anti-abortion extremist shot three people to death at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.

But not many understand just how bad it really was.

Here are some of the lesser-known political cases that cropped up: A West Virginia man was arrested for allegedly plotting to attack a courthouse and murder first responders; a Missourian was accused of planning to murder police officers; a former Congressional candidate in Tennessee allegedly conspired to mass-murder Muslims; a New York white supremacist blew his own leg off as he built bombs; and three North Carolinians were accused in a plot to attack the military.

There’s more. A Pennsylvania man who ran a “White Church” pleaded guilty to manufacturing 20 bombs; a New Yorker allegedly collected heavy weapons to murder Jews and African Americans; three Georgia militiamen went to prison for plotting to attack utilities and start a war with the government; a West Virginia “sovereign citizen” was accused of attempting to overthrow the state government; two white supremacists in Virginia were charged with buying explosives from undercover agents in order to attack black churches and synagogues; and a racist Minnesotan was arrested for shooting five Black Lives Matter protesters.

Although the number of deaths attributable to domestic terrorism still was very small compared to, say, cancer or traffic accident deaths, such killings cause far greater social damage because they produce shock waves in targeted communities and also tend to split Americans along pre-existing fault lines like race.


Sadly, hatred can strike anywhere – even targeting the most innocent members of our society. In February, a bomb threat was phoned into a Jewish preschool at the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana. No bomb was found, but this incident shows that no place is immune to the threats of bigots.

Hateful rhetoric has often lead to violence or threats of violence. Potok does not hesitate to blame right wing media and politicians for their role in creating a more hateful public atmosphere that helped lead to violent acts.

Antigovernment militiamen, white supremacists, abortion foes, domestic Islamist radicals, neo-Nazis and lovers of the Confederate battle flag targeted police, government officials, black churchgoers, Muslims, Jews, schoolchildren, Marines, abortion providers, members of the Black Lives Matter protest movement, and even drug dealers.

They laid plans to attack courthouses, banks, festivals, funerals, schools, mosques, churches, synagogues, clinics, water treatment plants and power grids. They used firearms, bombs, C-4 plastic explosives, knives and grenades; one of them, a murderous Klansman, was convicted of trying to build a death ray.

The armed violence was accompanied by rabid and often racist denunciations of Muslims, LGBT activists and others — incendiary rhetoric led by a number of mainstream political figures and amplified by a lowing herd of their enablers in the right-wing media. Reacting to demographic changes in the U.S., immigration, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Islamist atrocities, these people fostered a sense of polarization and anger in this country that may be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968.

When it comes to mainstream politics, the hardcore radical right typically says a pox on both their houses. Not this time. Donald Trump’s demonizing statements about Latinos and Muslims have electrified the radical right, leading to glowing endorsements from white nationalist leaders such as Jared Taylor and former Klansman David Duke. White supremacist forums are awash with electoral joy, having dubbed Trump their “Glorious Leader.” And Trump has repaid the compliments, retweeting hate posts and spreading their false statistics on black-on-white crime.

In the midst of these developments, hate groups continued to flourish. The number of groups on the American radical right, according to the latest count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, expanded from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015 — a 14% increase.


One concern that I have is that we now have states creating right to discriminate based on one’s religion. We are familiar with the laws passed in Mississippi and North Carolina which allows a person to refuse to do business or provide a public service to others based on religious belief. In response, companies like PayPal have said that they reject discrimination against LGBTQ people and any form of discrimination. Bigotry may have a higher price in the 21st Century than it did in the 20th Century

Despite violence, hateful speech and discriminatory laws, there is some good news about efforts to oppose hate groups.

The Aryan Nations is about ready to go the way of the dinosaurs.

A dozen years after the death of its founder, the remnants of the once-infamous Aryan Nations have just about disappeared.

The Aryan Nations — once the best-known white supremacist group in the nation — all but faded into racist history as 2015 drew to a close.

A mere 12 years after the death of Aryan Nations founder Richard Girnt Butler, there is no longer an official “Aryan Nations World Headquarters” or a website promoting his racist ideology, which mixed anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology, Hitler-worship and the white supremacy of the Ku Klux Klan.

That’s not to say, of course, that white supremacy, bigotry, racism, neo-Nazi ideas and a lingering fascination with Butler have disappeared.

But rather than gathering at Butler’s Aryan church and clubhouse in the woods of North Idaho — deliberately burned to the ground after a devastating civil suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the group’s resulting bankruptcy in 2000 — white supremacists have regrouped largely through Internet connections and forums, along with small in-person gatherings.

There are, however, groups that still revere the name.


Another promising development comes out of Chicago, where a group is working to help people leave hate groups and change their deeply held beliefs about others. Life After Hate includes former racists among their members.

Now, a Chicago-based group called Life After Hate is starting an American program. The group’s recently inaugurated ExitUSA program (www.exitusa.org) is mainly staffed, like most exit programs around the world, by former racist activists. “At ExitUSA,” the group says, “we are dedicated to helping individuals leave the white-power movement and start building a new life, just like we did.”

Some of the older exit programs have come under occasional criticism for ignoring the social basis for racism, for glorifying former extremists as newly minted “experts,” for failing to root out participants’ ingrained racism and anti-Semitism, and for being used by state security apparatuses. But there seems to be little question that in at least some cases, they have done important work.


Christian Piccolini, a former racist who helped set up Life After Hate, notes several commonalities among racists.
Happy people don’t plant bombs, and happy people don’t behead people, and happy people don’t paint swastikas on synagogues. It’s just not the case. Disenfranchised, lonely, self-loathing people do that. There is something missing from their life, something that they didn’t get, whether it was as a child or maybe they were abused or maybe they came from a broken home or something was missing. Even for me, who came from a relatively normal household, there was something missing.

I believe that the day will come when racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry will be banished and will seem perplexing to generations that only learned about such forms of hate as part of their education. I believe that we must learn not just to tolerate each other but to respect each other. Morally and religiously, I cannot deny others the same rights and dignity that I want for myself. My hope is that we will see the day when bigotry has ended come closer and that we take the time to be more understanding and compassionate/ Perhaps on that day – may it not be different – the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will prove literally true.
"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."

May this be true in our own lives and in our own time.

1 comments (Latest Comment: 04/07/2016 15:17:43 by Will in Chicago)
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