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Hate, fear, and rhetoric: The labeling of hate crimes in the United States

Two weeks ago, the news exploded with a shooting at the Family Research Council which injured a security guard in the arm. Conservatives immediately went on the attack, labeling the shooting ‘terrorism’ and a ‘hate crime’ and zeroing in on the fact that the shooter was associated with a gay community centre, creating the image of a rampaging army of armed queers preparing for war. They demanded immediate action and swift justice.

The FRC even tried to complain about its listing as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a number of other organisations followed suit, demanding to be delisted because they claimed it made them ‘targets.’ They disliked, they whined, being compared to the KKK. The implication was that radical activists were scanning the list to work up a plan of attack; which explains the recent string of bombings, shootings, hate mail, and other actions directed at groups on that list. That didn’t happen, you say? Oh, my mistake.

Conservatives are attempting to catch the left in a gotcha here; they argue that people up in arms about acts of terrorism and hate crimes committed against minority groups should also be up in arms about this. Yet, they’re choosing to deliberately override some extremely important context in service of their end agenda.

Starting with the fact that when you examine the record, there is a sustained history of a pattern of violence against minority groups. And in some cases, that violence is escalating. The Muslim community is facing a growing tide of attacks; many of my Muslim friends living in urban areas noted that they had police or security guards around the masjid during Ramadan celebrations because they were concerned for their safety, for example. And rightly so, because mosques have recently been vandalised, burned to the ground, subjected to hate mail, and clearly targeted for being places of Muslim worship.

Groups like the FRC are listed as hate groups because they promote hate. They don’t just actively have hateful beliefs, but they work on legislative lobbying to marginalise certain members of society and encourage followers to put pressure on their legislators and commit hateful acts in their communities. There’s a reason the SPLC thinks they’re a danger to society and are in need of further investigative action: Because acts of violence have been directly linked to these organizations. Because people engaged in acts of terrorism have proudly and clearly indicated their affiliation with groups on this list, arguing that their actions are furthering the cause.

Conversely, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation doesn’t put out press releases encouraging the US to deport all heterosexuals, nor does it indicate that supporters of the group should leaflet heterosexual watering holes with anti-heterosexual propaganda. It doesn’t suggest that members should consider picketing heterosexual pride parades, nor it is involved in the vile and utterly reprehensible protesting of military funerals with hateful signage. So, it’s not listed as a hate group. Because it doesn’t promote hate. It promotes equality and fair treatment for all.

The amount of press dedicated to the FRC shooting was appalling when you considered the huge number of anti-Muslim hate crimes that occurred in the same time period. The fact that the media jumped to call the FRC shooting terrorism, which served the interests of the FRC very nicely, was extremely frustrating; especially since it demonstrated considerable reluctance to do the same for the string of hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs in the United States. For that matter, the Sikh temple shooting, a very blatant act of domestic terrorism, wasn’t labeled as such; instead, people had debates about whether it might be considered terrorism, because they weren’t sure. 

An attack intended to intimidate, threaten, and terrify members of a minority group might not be an act of terrorism? Really now?

The reluctance to clearly identify hate crimes for what they are, and to label them as domestic terrorism, speaks to a larger refusal to take action on these issues. Long before 11 September, Arab-Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs were targeted for the way they looked and worshiped. After 11 September, that became much, more worse, and most of these cases didn’t make the news. In turn, no clear message was sent by the government as a whole, let alone regional authorities, that these kinds of crimes wouldn’t be tolerated, and law enforcement would act quickly to address them.

At the same time, the United States government was directing funding away from domestic hate groups and into international counter-terrorism. Despite warnings from several federal agencies and advocacy groups, the government refused to recognise a growing threat within our own borders. Investigations were limited, underfunded, and restricted in nature, making it difficult to track the rise of such groups, their members, and their actions.

Essentially, hate groups were allowed to grow like weeds in the United States. No one was watching the garden and certainly no one was bothering to take the time to weed it, and the circumstances created a perfect storm. As economic conditions grew worse, such groups started preying on frustration and fear to recruit members. As they saw that no action was being taken to suppress them, they grew more aggressive, more bold, and more assertive. The government’s refusal to act left vulnerable populations, from patients seeking routine reproductive health services to people going to worship, at extreme risk.

And now the government is reaping the consequences, while the media debates whether these are really hate crimes and incidents of domestic terrorism.

One Comment

  1. Catherine wrote:

    In other words this is one part variation of “What About teh Menz” writ large and one part the modern right wing trying to redefine the argument. Both are fails, though they have a nasty way of working. I’m also heartily tired of terrorist = Muslim. We’ve had so many, many Christian terrorists during my lifetime.

    Dear FRC,

    Pretty is as pretty does. If you don’t want to be associated with the KKK, then take a look at what you are doing and Fix It. Better yet, love thy neighbor, like we were told!

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink