Number of hate groups in Pennsylvania stays steady in 2016 vs. 2015, report says
February 15, 2017 11:48 PM
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Protesters demonstrate last month outside the White House to denounce President Donald Trump's executive order that bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. The number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S. is exploding, but numbers are stagnant in Pennsylvania.
By Jonathan D. Silver / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
While the number of active hate groups in the nation rose over the past year, fueled in part by the political ascendance of Donald Trump, the number operating in Pennsylvania remained steady, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Montgomery, Ala.-based nonprofit that monitors domestic hate groups and extremism, wrote in its quarterly Intelligence Report. “The reaction to Trump’s victory by the radical right was ecstatic.”
Nationally, the center said there were 917 hate groups, up slightly from 892 in 2015. Across the country, the center said, the number of anti-Muslim groups nearly tripled to 101 from 34. The number of hate groups operating in Pennsylvania remained at 40, the center said.
Pennsylvania had the fifth-highest number of groups in the country, behind California, Florida, Texas and New York, the center said.
In Western Pennsylvania, the center identified eight hate groups — some of which have contested the designation, such as the Nation of Islam. They run the gamut of intolerance, from those affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi movement to those backing black separatism and white nationalism and those espousing anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT viewpoints. They were located in Franklin, Hampton, Pittsburgh, Meadville and Oil City as well as communities in Indiana and Mercer counties.
How many members these groups have is a great unknown.
“That sort of information regarding the particular makeup or how many members each chapter of each group has is hard to come by,” Ryan Lenz, a spokesman for the center, said.
Some Ku Klux Klan groups, for instance, claim 30,000 members but there might actually be only 30, according to Mr. Lenz.
He said the membership rolls maintained by hate groups “are usually wildly inflated and almost never accurate. It is impossible to count the number of people who are members of these organizations.”
While the report and its accompanying online “hate map” of active hate groups in the U.S. (complete with colorful icons and a description of the type of intolerance each espouses) provide no details about their activities, Mr. Lenz said the groups undergo a thorough vetting process by the center to determine their level of “real-world” activities — such as posting flyers, holding rallies and having a “physical presence in the environment around them” — before they are listed.
If they make the cut, Mr. Lenz said, it reflects more activity than, say, a lonely guy posting hateful comments from a laptop in his mother’s basement.
“Four guys sitting in the back of the bar whispering about the ‘Jewish question’ is not necessarily real-world activity,” Mr. Lenz said. Some groups, for example, host book clubs at which they try to recruit people by holding readings of racist tracts with the hopes of swaying them to join a nationalist or supremacist cause, he said.
“What we’re dealing with is people who are out in the real world trying to recruit and propagate a message that tries to undermine the diverse and multicultural values of this country,” Mr. Lenz said.
Mr. Lenz did not have immediately available details about Pennsylvania hate groups’ activities. he said he had no qualms about identifying small fringe groups in the center’s report for fears of legitimizing them.
“I think the legitimization has been done already. Let’s not forget that we have ideologies across the radical right that are being pushed and propagated by people in the White House,” Mr. Lenz said. “They’ve been moving from the fringe of American politics for decades.”
The report documented what it said were “a wave of hate crimes and lesser hate incidents” nationwide immediately following the November election. In the first 34 days after Mr. Trump won, there were 1,094 bias incidents but acknowledged that many are anecdotal and unverified, the center said.
Jonathan D. Silver: email@example.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.
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