Hate on the homefront
Speaker: Domestic terrorism on the rise, underreported
By Jean Ash
A high ranking we don’t need: Tennessee is in the top 10 states in number of active hate groups in 2010, says Heidi Beirich, director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist organizations. There are 35 such organizations in the Volunteer state, making us No. 8 (after California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Mississippi, Georgia and Pennsylvania).
Speaking at the national SPJ convention in September in New Orleans, Beirich said what holds together such diverse groups as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and "skinheads," along with anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Latino groups, is the belief of each group that some population is inferior to them.
In Tennessee, the hate groups identified are mostly affiliated with the Klan, but there are also some neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups, and one labeled “Christian Identity” located in New Tazewell. The bulk of the known groups are in Middle Tennessee.
There has been a steady rise in the number of organized hate groups, and the hate crimes they foster are numerous -- as many as 200,000 in 2005, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Even at that, such crimes are thought to be under-reported, Beirich said; she opined that more money should be allocated by the media for investigative reporting.
Beirich named several factors thought to be responsible for the increase. First, a "demographic revolution" is changing the racial makeup of the U.S. population: It was 83 percent white in 1970; it's predicted that by 2045, more than half of U.S. residents will belong to an ethnic minority. “If you’re racist, this freaks you out and makes recruitment easier,” Beirich said.
The bad economy is another reason, she said: People who are unemployed or otherwise financially distressed are looking for a scapegoat, and it’s easy to blame immigrants.
Too, the election of President Barak Obama, the nation's first black president, has most likely contributed. Beirich said white supremacist hate groups’ online servers crashed right after the election, and she said there was an immediate huge surge in domestic terror acts and threats. A similar reaction occurred at the election of President Bill Clinton, but at that time it was anti-government rather than racist, she said.
On the international terrorism front, former CBS and current Associated Press correspondent Kimberly Dozier said that the several U.S. counterterrorism agencies are gaining ground in the Middle East, especially in preventing youth from becoming involved in terrorism in the first place. One success she cited is keeping the activities of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula from being “exported from there to here.” However, she added, “a big problem is, how do tracking agencies cooperate with each other without stepping on each other?”
Dozier, who was critically injured while on assignment in Iraq in 2006 in an attack that killed four of her crew members and an American soldier, was asked about the difficulties and ethics of reporting on classified information or stories that could cause harm.
Noting that “the government classifies almost everything,” she said the key is to try to get the information from a source high enough to have it before it becomes classified. Asked what she would do in a case like the recent one, in which the identity of the Navy Seal who “got” Osama bin Laden was revealed, Dozier said, “You must balance the ethics: the value of the headline versus accountability against the fallout.” She said she and colleagues are often briefed on potential terrorist attacks but will not report on them if there's a chance publicity would result in death of a source -- or worse.
For more information on domestic hate groups, get a free subscription to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s quarterly Intelligence Report magazine at http://www.intelligencereport.org/subscribe.