Health care reform brings out hate

By WilliamPrentiss

Hatred is on the rise, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

A study released in April by the ADL said extreme speech on the Web has grown into a fervor.  The report quotes forum posts from patriot and extremist Web sites. Many of the quotes warn against the tyranny they claim to see in President Barack Obama’s administration and call for a violent uprising.

According to the league’s study, the passage of the health care bill fueled more rhetoric by these groups. David Schneider, Midwest investigative researcher for the ADL, said physical threats against politicians have increased. He said it’s difficult to pinpoint if or when this speech will turn into action.

On March 25, the FBI raided an Ann Arbor, Mich., militia after discovering their plan to murder emergency responders and set a bomb off at their funeral. The group call themselves “Christian Warriors,” and hold anti-Semitic views. The study found much of the chatter coming from these groups carry strong anti-immigrant and racial undercurrents.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate groups have grown 52 percent since 2002. The largest increase was seen in anti-immigration vigilante and “patriot” groups. However, Schneider said the number of hate crimes in Chicago has decreased.  According to a report released by the Chicago Police Department, 72 crimes were reported in 2008, compared to the 80 prosecuted in 2007. Further, less than half of the incidents investigated by the CPD’s Civil Rights Unit were found to be legitimate. Schneider said these hate organizations commit crimes and cross the boundary from protected speech to criminal acts.

“They have committed crimes in the past, absolutely,” Sneider said. “They have committed hate crimes; they’ve committed acts of violence; they’ve committed acts of racial vandalism. In 2008, there was a person who tagged the West Lawn Cemetery out by the airport with 57 swastikas.”

Sgt. Allyson Johnson, CPD’s Civil Rights Unit commander, said Illinois’ strict hate crime laws keep these crimes low compared to the national average. In Illinois, misdemeanors like assault and vandalism are treated as a felony if the perpetrator has targeted someone because of the victim’s race, sexual orientation, gender or disability. Johnson said the hardest part of her job is dealing with people who are ignorant of hate crime law.

“They want to cry once they get a conviction of 10 years, and there’s nothing we can do about that,” Johnson said. “There’s no in between. It’s either a hate crime or not. And if it’s a hate, crime it’s a felony. If it’s a felony and a conviction, you’re going to prison.”

Booth Gunther, Southern Poverty Law Center’s public coordinator, said the fact that we have a black president and the increase of immigration into the United States inspired the growth of hate groups. According to the center, eight hate groups are active in Chicago. Among them are skinheads, Klu Klux Klansmen, neo-Nazis and White Nationalists.

Sgt. Johnson said these groups are quiet at the moment but she expects them to be more active in the next three weeks as the weather warms. She the most active hate group in the Chicago area is the skinhead organization Volksfront.

Several members of Volksfront were called and e-mailed, including the groups coordinator. They declined to be interviewed for this story.

Booth Gunther, Southern Poverty Law Center’s public coordinator, said the everyday person will most likely never come into contact with a member of one of these organizations. Extremists tend to only spread their venom on the Internet, outside of the public’s view, he said.

“They absolutely have a First Amendment right to express their views,” Gunther said. “In our society you’re free to hate; you’re free to hate as much you want. You’re not free to act on that hate in terms of violence. When you do that, it becomes a hate crime.”

The Council of Conservative Citizens is one of the groups on the Poverty Center’s hate map. Gordon Baum, a Council spokesman, said the organization serves “as an active advocate for the no-longer-silent conservative majority.” Baum said the Council in no way supports violence to further their cause.

“That would be counter-productive,” Baum said. “The worst thing that could happen right now is that somebody would try to assassinate our president, who I don’t like at all [but] violence wouldn’t solve anything.  It would throw us into turmoil, and we’d end up with a federal dictatorship.”