Rise of domestic hate groups examined

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BENNINGTON — The number of hate groups has risen sharply in the United States since 2000, driven in part by shifting demographics that are projected to make non-whites a majority of the country's population by 2050, a representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center told Bennington College students and community members Thursday night.

Lecia Brooks, SPLC's outreach director, spoke on how the organization tracks hate groups such as nativists and white supremacists, and how those groups numbers have risen dramatically in recent years. A former classroom teacher and a native of Montgomery, Alabama, Brooks was making her second trip to the Green Mountain State.

"The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality." Toward that goal, the organization monitors hate groups, teaching tolerance and reducing prejudice in schools, seeking justice for vulnerable people, and maintaining the civil rights memorial in Montgomery.

Her organization has found that hate groups, which include white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, and other groups, numbered around 600 in 2000. Today, there are about 954 organizations classified by the center as hate groups operating in the United States, including two that are active in Vermont: The Daily Stormer, a Neo-Nazi website, and The Right Stuff, a white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and Neo-Nazi blog that is associated with the Daily Stormer.

Brooks pointed to shifting demographics as part of the reason for the upswing. Almost 50 percent of people under 18 are non-white, she said, and by 2050 white people are no longer projected to be a majority in the country. This has left many white people, young and old, in a new and uncomfortable position. Many, she said, find groups online that share those anxieties, and are slowly radicalized.

"People are becoming radicalized online, increasingly," she said. "You need only look at Dylan Roof. Dylan Roof is the guy who went into a church in Charleston and murdered nine African-Americans at the end of bible study. He did that because he went down the rabbit hole online. He started with a couple websites, he was on the Daily Stormer, he was on Stormfront. He posted there, we saw that. But he started with the website called the Council for Conservative Citizens. That's where he got this notion that black people were killing white people. He began to look at statistics around black-on-white crime, but statistics that are put out by these guys, which are false. But he believed them. Websites like the Council for Conservative Citizens and the Daily Stormer said, 'We've got to do something.' And so Dylan Roof did something."

And the reach of those websites is growing, she said. In the summer of 2016, the Daily Stormer had 140 unique page views per month. A year later, in August 2017, that number had risen to 750,000.

In addition to the number of hate groups, she said, those groups acting more boldly than at any point since the Civil Rights Era. At the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year, Neo-Nazi and Neo-Confederate groups marched in public without hoods, with their faces showing, she said. "It was the boldest show of racial intimidation since the 50's and 60's."

Groups like Identity Europa and the Atomwaffen Division have made great efforts to recruit at colleges. While membership in organizations like the Ku Klux Klan has fallen in recent, Neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations such as these are attempting to appeal to a new generation. "They say they're trying to bring back western civilization, like it went somewhere," said Brooks.

After the talk, Brooks spent about 30 minutes taking questions from the audience. One asked how the organization defines hate groups. She responded that a hate group is a group of people who share "a belief or philosophy that villainizes an entire group of people based on an immutable characteristic."

Another student asked if there were circumstances in which hate groups or oppressive power structures should be met with violent opposition. "I believe, and we believe, that violent protest doesn't really give you the change you desire," she said. "Nonviolent protest does. It might take longer, but it does work." She said that with society as self-segregated politically as it is today, the need for deliberative dialogue is greater than ever. She encouraged everyone in attendance to expose themselves to diversity and engage with different possibilities and perspectives. At the same time, she said, people need to be ready to call out hateful and bigoted behavior when they see it. "No one should have to defend their humanity against a white supremacist," she said.

The talk was the sixth part of the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education Speaker Series. The consortium, comprised of Bennington, Bard, Sarah Lawrence and Vassar Colleges, "is committed to developing new, horizontal, and more egalitarian models of global educational solidarity to address the refugee crisis and to educate our students to be engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world," according to a press release from Bennington College.



Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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