54% — one more grim statistic this year. But unlike other statistics grabbing headlines these days, this one is not about a stock market decline or rise in unemployment, though it may be related to them.
54% = the increase in the number of hate groups in this country since the Year 2000. This alarming news comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center , a public interest law firm founded in 1971 to advocate for civil rights and combat hate crimes. The SPLC Intelligence Project monitors hate groups around the country and publishes an annual report on these organizations.
Most disturbing, this year’s Intelligence Report, “The Year in Hate,” provides evidence that the rise in hate organizations like skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations has gained new impetus since the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African American president. Not surprisingly, but profoundly troubling, Obama’s very decisive election seemed to trigger an outpouring of venom along that sometimes-thin creepy fringe separating civilized people with radically opposing political viewpoints from the truly dangerous and demented hate-filled outlaws.
The economic crisis and rising unemployment have also fueled hate groups, particularly those who target immigrant populations. The SPLC report points out that tough economic times often provoke scapegoating of minority groups by those who feel threatened by the potential loss of a job or a reduction in income.
Coming just a month after President Obama’s inauguration, this report should be a wake-up call for everyone who stood, literally and metaphorically, shoulder-to-shoulder on the national mall to cheer for the new president and the breakthrough his election represented. While millions are busy cheering him on, a very few dangerous anarchists are prowling the edges, planning disruption, acts of hatred, even murder. SPLC’s report reminds us of the need for eternal vigilance — not just for the terrorist abroad, but perhaps even more urgently for the hate-monger here at home. We have memorialized September 11, 2001 — but few people outside of Oklahoma City can probably identify the date of April 19, 1995, the date of the deadliest homegrown terrorist act in this country, a crime fueled by the anti-government madness of Timothy McVeigh and his co-conspirators. Fewer still are likely to recognize the date of September 15, 1963, the date of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, a crime later ascribed to the Ku Klux Klan, an evil act that is emblematic of the racial hatred that still courses through some veins around this country.
In the famous words of the philosopher George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” The SPLC report demands more memory, less complacency, and increased advocacy for justice in the face of rising hatred.