Most of us can remember a time when it was embarrassing to be a racist, homophobe or other flavor of bigot. Racists were those relatives you were embarrassed to introduce to your friends, or a neighbor’s house you crossed the street to avoid passing. For the lucky few who live in relatively liberal areas and have never experienced explicit or aggressive hatred, it can be jarring to see the news of white supremacist groups clashing with protesters at rallies and anti-Semitic propaganda being distributed in public.
For Muslim and Jewish communities, Black and Latinx/Hispanic communities, LGBTQIA+ individuals and immigrants, the threat of being subjected to acts of senseless and brutal violence is very real. The problem is that now--under a Trump/Pence administration that readily utilized xenophobia, transphobia and anti-Islamic sentiments to rise to power--we are seeing a rise in the level of comfort people have with openly displaying hatred in a public forum.
You may have seen the Westboro Baptist Church-style anti-gay protesters, complete with signs reading ‘HOMO SEX IS SIN’ and various other primitive messages. Those religious zealots are actually considered a hate group, as categorized by the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC is a non-profit legal organization and lobbying group that combats bigotry in all forms and defends those victimized by hate. Founded in 1971 by civil rights lawyers, SPLC is at the foreground of social justice issues that affect the most vulnerable populations in the United States. Part of the work that the Center does involves recording, cataloging and producing data about hate crimes as they occur--and the hate organizations that perpetrate them. By their calculations, there are currently 917 operational hate groups in the United States of America.
This startling number includes 130 chapters of the infamous white-hooded Ku Klux Klan. The Klan has historically been responsible for acts of domestic terrorism such as bombings of Black churches and schools, kidnappings, torture and lynchings. The group was originally founded by Confederate veterans after the Civil War was over and the South was not ready to relinquish their hold on racism and slavery. Although their group mentality encompasses white supremacy, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-Semitism, they are exceptionally notorious for their violent and unwarranted attacks against the Black community.
Today, the KKK has chapters in Indianapolis, San Francisco and even New York. In a pre-election public appearance, Donald Trump refused to condemn the actions of the KKK after he was openly endorsed as a presidential candidate by former Klansman David Duke, asserting: “I know nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about White Supremacists.” David Duke issued a statement claiming that a vote for any other candidate would be considered “a treason to [white] heritage.”
The year 2016 also saw a 197% increase in anti-Muslim hate groups. The organization of groups against the followers of Islam is a relatively new phenomenon, stemming as it does largely from the September 11th attacks. However, the number of groups skyrocketed from 34 in 2015 to 101 the following year. As a general rule, anti-Muslim groups actively believe that Muslim people are attempting to undermine American democracy and impose their own Sharia law upon the American people. It sounds like an easily-debunked conspiracy theory, but people are actually willing to carry out violent attacks under this erroneously false consensus. The final two months of 2015 saw at least 34 incidents where a mosque was targeted for an attack by groups like these, and it is estimated that these groups have received over $205 million in donations and funding from supporters--money that then gets spent with the explicit goal of spreading hate propaganda against the Muslim community.
At this point, you may be asking yourself: what can I do to combat hate groups? Well, here are some suggestions:
Read up. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s website is an excellent resource for learning about individual hate groups, of which there are many.
Stay safe. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do as individuals: the people who orchestrate these types of groups are violent, dangerous and often afflicted by poor judgement. Confrontation with these individuals should be avoided at all costs and immediately reported to law enforcement or the SPLC.
Collect receipts. If you see hateful graffiti, photograph it and report it. Documentation is important.
Keep the conversation going. Discussion is crucial, and staying informed is key. Just don’t let yourself get burned out: as always, self-care and self-preservation is of utmost importance.