A version of this story will appear in Upfront's September 18 issue.
ORGANIZATIONS THAT SPREAD HATE HAVE GROWN IN THE PAST TWO DECADES
They’re present in every state in America, and they promote racism and hatred. More than 900 hate groups operate in the U.S. today, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), double the number in 1999.
A hate group, according to the FBI, is one that promotes “animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a [different] race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.” These groups include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations that promote hatred of blacks, Jews, immigrants, and others.
Hate groups vary widely in level of organization and size; some are no more than a loose affiliation of a few people, while others have hundreds of committed members.
Why are these groups allowed to march and promote their racist views? The answer lies in the Constitution—more specifically, in the First Amendment right to free speech, which protects Americans’ right to express themselves, even if most people find what they’re saying offensive.
“The First Amendment is a critical part of our democracy, and it protects vile, hateful, and ignorant speech,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted in response to the Charlottesville march. The ACLU defends Americans’ constitutional rights, even for those who belong to hate groups.
Despite being on the fringes of society, hate groups have used the internet to recruit new members and spread their views, and they’ve vowed to step up the fight against the removal of Confederate monuments.
President Trump’s failure to immediately denounce hate groups after the Charlottesville violence caused an uproar (see main story), although he later said that “racism is evil” and called white supremacists “criminals and thugs.”
So what can young people do to combat hate?
“Being informed,” says Heidi Beirich of the SPLC. “Knowing what you’re standing up to—and what you’re standing up for—that’s most important for young people today.”
— Carl Stoffers