By Marian Wright Edelman
The growth in hate groups and the use of their divisive and negative language in the mainstream political and media arena is cause for national alarm. Already this year several horrendous hate crimes, possible hate crimes, and crimes committed by people with ties to hate groups have received national attention.
In the first week of May a fifteen-month-old girl was shot and killed along with her mother, grandmother, and her mother’s boyfriend, allegedly by Arizona White supremacist, border vigilante, and longtime neo-Nazi J.T. Ready. The murders were the apparent result of domestic violence by a man the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok called “a violent thug who typifies the very worst element in the American nativist movement.”
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, hate crime charges were filed in April against two White men who went on a Good Friday shooting spree in a Black neighborhood randomly targeting and killing three Black victims and injuring two more.
In Jackson, Mississippi, three White men pled guilty to federal hate crime charges in March after admitting to a pattern of harassing and assaulting Black people that ended with one of the men killing James C. Anderson in June 2011 by driving over him with a pickup truck.
And in Sanford, Florida, federal investigators considered whether hate crime charges might apply to the February killing of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin who was followed and killed by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
For 40 years the Southern Poverty Law Center’s mission has been to fight hate and bigotry and seek justice for the most vulnerable members of society. In its latest Intelligence Report for Spring 2012, the news on hate groups in America was frightening.
There were 1,018 hate groups in the United States in 2011, continuing a trend of significant growth that has lasted more than 10 years. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes, “The radical right grew explosively in 2011, the third such dramatic expansion in as many years. The growth was fueled by superheated fears generated by economic dislocation, a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories, the changing racial makeup of America, and the prospect of four more years under a Black president who many on the far right view as an enemy to their country.”
The report continues: “The truly stunning growth came in the antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement — conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy… Many Americans, infused with populist fury over bank and auto bailouts and a feeling that they had lost their country, joined Patriot groups. The swelling of the Patriot movement since that time has been astounding.”
The apparent killer in the Arizona murders is a prime example of how hate can cross over from the fringe into mainstream politics. J.T. Ready, the White supremacist and alleged shooter, was a vigilante border patroller, former Arizona Republican precinct committeeman, and candidate for local office who was applauded, endorsed, and sponsored as an elder in the Mormon Church by former state senate president Russell Pearce, an architect and lead sponsor of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration law.
Pearce was himself voted out of office after a recall election forced by a petition drive last November — the first such recall in Arizona history. Now he is vice chair of Arizona’s Republican Party.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.