Political Physics: Are Hate Crimes a Form of Domestic Terrorism?



a blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

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So over the weekend my BFF sent me a link to an op-ed piece in the NY Times entitled “Hate in a Cocoon of Silence” by Charles Blow.  In the piece, Blow references the hotly debated report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis entitled, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” that said, “Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

According to Blow, the report was a warning and we should have heeded it.

Last week’s shooting death of a security guard at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington was proof positive for Blow.  James von Brunn, self-declared racist, white supremacist, conspiracy theorist and hardcore anti-Semite, walked into the museum and opened fire.

Blow notes, “Just as disturbing as the incidents themselves are the lineups of family, friends and neighbors who emerged to talk about the vitriol they heard and the warning signs they saw.  I always want the interviewer to stop and ask them this simple question: And when he said or did that, how did you respond?”  Blow talks about the necessity for people to speak up and take action when their family, friends and/or acquaintances are spouting hatred and warn someone if you think they are about to blow.

The notion that the US, not just people of color or gay people, have something to fear from violent rightwing extremist ideology is not new.  But the sharp rise in hate crimes around the US is.

At a human rights conference in Geneva just five days before the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, Wade Henderson, President & CEO of Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said that “the number of hate crimes reported has consistently ranged around 7,500 or more annually—that’s nearly one every hour of every day.”  According to Henderson, “The number of hate crimes committed against Hispanics and those perceived to be immigrants has increased each of the past four years for which FBI data is available and violence against individuals because of their sexual orientation has increased to its highest level in five years.”

When you are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, worrying about North Korea and constantly checking on what color threat level we are at today, this whole topic might seem to pale in comparison.  But think again.

According to the NAACP the number of “hate groups,” which is defined as a organization that promotes hate or violence towards members of an entire class of people, based on characteristics such as race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, in the United States increased to 926 in 2008, up 54% since 2000.

And last week, I found out that my little 7.5 square mile City is home to a chapter of the New Black Panther Party (for the record not in any way affiliated with the actual Black Panthers – feel the need to say that as a former African American Studies Major).  The NBPP is a US-based black supremacist organization and their former National Chairman, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, once issued a statement that said, “there are no good crackers [referring to Whites], and if you find one, kill him before he changes.”  One of their members, Divine Allah, is running for City Council.  I am appalled to find out that they have a chapter in my city….appalled as a Native Trentonian, appalled as a black woman, appalled as one half of an interracial marriage and appalled as the mother of a biracial child.

You may believe that the Homeland Security Report is blowing the issue out of proportion, but hate crimes are a serious problem in the US and they are a form of domestic terrorism.  And Charles Blow is right; we cannot afford to ignore them.

So what can we do?

First and foremost, Charles Blow is right, speak up.  When you hear people making racist comments, speak up, even if it is family or friends.  And if you know someone who you think might be on the brink of exercising violence, speak up.  You can’t afford to sit silent.

Second, preach, teach and live tolerance in your own life.  Hate is learned.

Lastly, support the creation, expansion and enforcement of hate crimes laws.  You can lobby your local, state and federal representatives and ask them to support the creation, expansion and enforcement of hate crimes laws.

On April 29th, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913, introduced by Congressman John Conyers, MI) passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 249 to 145.  The bill would expand existing hate crime prevention laws and allow the federal government to assist the local authorities in the investigation and prosecution of crimes motivated by hate, regardless of where or what the victim was doing at the time the crime occurred.  It would also expand the definition of a hate crime to include those motivated by the victim’s disability, gender or sexual orientation and it would provide money to states to develop hate crime prevention programs.

Senator Kennedy (MA) has introduced companion legislation, S. 909, which has yet to be considered by the Senate.  Take a minute to send an email to your senator (if you do not know your senator, you can look them up at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm) and ask that they support S. 909.

Next May is the election for Trenton Mayor and City Council, so over the next few months’ campaigns will be gearing up.  I pledge to speak up and take action to ensure that a member of a black separatist group is not elected to the Trenton City Council.

I can’t afford not to.  But Charles Blow is right and so was Edmund Burke when he said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”