The Orange County Register, Feb 16, 2017
By DEEPA BHARATH / STAFF WRITER
Southern California leads the nation’s most hateful state, California, when it comes to hate groups.
In the newest update of its annual Hate Map, which lists groups and organizations that target people based on race, religion or sexual orientation, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Wednesday that the nation saw its second-straight year-to-year jump in the number of hate groups.
Everything from national politics to international terror played a role in the increase, the center said.
The Alabama-based organization noted a specific rise in groups it described as “radical right wing” and anti-Muslim, including a big jump of such groups in Southern California.
Last year was “an unprecedented year for hate,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and editor of the report.
Overall, the Southern Poverty Law Center found 917 hate groups in the United States, up 3 percent from 2015.
California, the nation’s most populous state, led the nation with 79 such organizations, followed by Florida, with 63, and Texas, with 55. Nearly half of the hate groups in California are local, with 35 in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. And Orange County saw a particularly steep jump – from three groups listed in 2015 to eight last year.
Potok linked the rise of such groups with the political fortune of President Donald Trump.
“The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists.”
Potok noted that the high profile of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News leader who has given a platform for white nationalist views, has led some extremists to believe “they finally have an ally who has the president’s ear.”
Some people listed on the report decried the label, describing it as a form of political correctness aimed at quashing free speech.
“They don’t want anyone to have religious freedom and condemn the people they don’t agree with,” said Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition in Anaheim.
Sheldon’s group has been a regular on the Hate Map because, in the view of the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is anti-gay and against others in the LGBTQ community. Sheldon said that’s not true.
“These are people – something happened in their lives and took them in the wrong direction – like tripping and falling,” Sheldon said. “They are to be pitied and loved.”
GROUPS ON THE MAP
The Southern Poverty Law Center says groups get listed on the Hate Map based on data gleaned from a variety of sources including websites and police reports.
“We make a big effort to separate a man, his dog and a computer from a group with on-the-ground activity,” Potok said. “They need to meet our criteria as a hate group, which means they have a clear ideology of hate vilifying an entire race of people.”
These are well-organized groups that are holding rallies, accepting memberships, selling literature, distributing leaflets and, in some cases, committing crimes, he added.
“We also make a big effort not to include groups just because they were on it the previous year.”
The most dramatic increase in the report was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year. Potok attributed that to Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which at times described Muslim Americans as sympathetic to terrorists.
Potok said the map doesn’t list Islamist groups only because most operate outside the U.S. The map does list groups that target white people, Catholics and some others not typically viewed as targets.
A majority of the newly featured groups in Orange County were white nationalists, including Anaheim-based Hate Crime Streetwear Productions and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; Huntington Beach-based American Vanguard; and the Occidental Observer in Laguna Hills. Another new group is ACT for America, a national “anti-Muslim” group, which now has a chapter in Mission Viejo.
‘THAT’S JUST RIDICULOUS’
Evelyn Miller, a member of the National Coalition on Immigration Reform, also listed on the Hate Map as an anti-immigrant group, said she doesn’t care about the label. But she did express frustration that her group’s beliefs – which she described as being pro-American, not anti-immigrant – are being disparaged.
“If they are calling a group that opposes illegal immigration a hate group, then that’s just ridiculous,” she said. “They are anti-American if they are in favor of foreign invaders.”
The sharp increase in Orange County groups making the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map doesn’t surprise Peter Simi, associate professor of sociology at Chapman University. Simi, who has studied far-right extremism for more than two decades, said the county has a long history as a haven for groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
“The increase in anti-Muslim groups is very troubling given what we’ve seen in terms of hate crimes and incidents here and around the nation,” he said.
Until recently, he said, far-right groups often felt a need to meet in private because they feared public condemnation.
“But, over the last year, we’ve seen these folks get increasingly comfortable being out in the open,” he said. “We’ve seen a rebranding of far-right extremism with the alt-right.”
Potok called the alt-right “a Machiavellian rebranding of white supremacy or white nationalism for the purpose of public relations.”
Reports like the Hate Map are valuable in terms of raising awareness, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
He said the Hate Map is more reason to not ignore the extreme right groups and focus all attention on Islamist groups.
“The jihadists represent the most prominent threat, but by far, not the only threat,” Levin said.
Levin and others also are concerned about a rise of extreme left groups particularly in blue states. Even though they are small, Levin says it’s a pattern that’s worth watching.
“We’re hearing about meetings taking place in and around college campuses in Orange and Los Angeles counties, with rhetoric that violence is the answer,” he said.
Tim Zaal, a former neo-Nazi who now speaks regularly against extremism at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, said emerging violence on the left is further fueling the rage on the extreme right.
“The best way to remain vigilant is to condemn violent extremism on both sides of the political divide,” Zaal said.
“Buying into (violence) distracts us from working toward unity, peace and respect for others. This can’t be done through legislation, but only with compassion and open discourse.”