Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Struggle to Track Rising Extremism

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Organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center ("SPLC") and the Anti-defamation League are working overtime trying to track the rising extremism gripping America which is being fanned daily by Donald Trump and many within the GOP who have given license to extremists.  What was once dog whistle messaging has now been replaced by open racism and the open dissemination of hate. And it is not just Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who are marketing hatred.   In Virginia alone, SPLC identifies 37 active hate organizations that range from white Nationalists, anti-immigrant extremists and anti-LGBT extremists (go to the SPLC site and check out your state).  With the advent of the Internet and social media, the venues for spewing and fueling hatred and organizing acts of violence has exploded.  A piece in The New Yorker looks at the growing difficulty is tracking extremism and warning law enforcement of the growing threats.  Here are highlights:

Heidi Beirich has worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center for almost two decades. She oversees the organization’s yearly tally of “hate and hard-line, anti-government” groups. On Saturday, she was at the airport in Montgomery, Alabama—she was flying to New Orleans, where the S.P.L.C. is having its board meeting—when she saw a CNN report about the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“My first thought was, Oh God, this could be one of ours,” she told me by phone Saturday afternoon. The S.P.L.C. maintains an enormous database of extremists and extremist groups. When acts of violence and domestic terror take place, the group runs the suspects’ names against its database to see if there’s a match. If there is, they take that information to law enforcement, and share it with reporters and the public.
I asked Beirich for her thoughts on the news coverage of acts of mass violence, and the debate over the merits of broadcasting perpetrators’ beliefs. “I understand the argument: don’t give these people too much ink, or airtime, because you’re just spreading the propaganda,” she said. “But the truth is these people are committing so much violence, and their ideas are actually influencing public policy—the Muslim ban, the immigration stuff thats going on—I don’t think you can ignore it.”
Even for Beirich and her team, who study the nexus of hate and violence professionally, this week—with the pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats, and the deliberate shooting of two black people by a white man in Kentucky—was overwhelming.
But it hasn’t been just the past week—it’s been the past few years. Hate crimes increased in both 2015 and 2016, according to the latest F.B.I. data, and the Anti-Defamation League says that anti-Semitic incidents spiked in 2017. . . . The F.B.I.’s data may not even be the full picture, she pointed out, saying, “Not every state has a hate-crime law, many that do don’t cover the L.G.B.T. population, and there’s no training for law enforcement.”
The suspect in the Pittsburgh shooting was identified on Saturday as Robert Bowers. He killed at least ten people before being arrested. He wasn’t in the S.P.L.C.’s system. “I’m not that surprised,” she said. “We try to collect everything we can about white supremacists, but this is a huge world.” Beirich’s team found Bowers’s posts on Gab, a social network popular with white nationalists and the alt-right.  “Gab, where this guy was posting, is, like, four hundred thousand people,” Beirich told me. “We don’t have information on four hundred thousand people.”
The manias of mass murderers are always particular. But the massacres in Pittsburgh and Jeffersontown—and the pipe bombs sent to a dozen Democratic leaders this week, allegedly by the Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc—share some obvious common causes. They are the toxic politics of the President, and the racist, nationalist fervor that has been inflamed by his rise, and the success and the militancy of the gun lobby, which for decades has refused to acknowledge the obvious: that one way to have fewer killings is to make it harder for Americans to possess guns. Each of these is a national crisis on its own.
What should be plain now is that each crisis is escalating, as is the frequency of political violence. Trump, asked about the Pittsburgh shooting, said, “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better.” The moral inadequacy is vast. Murderous acts of hate have occurred, on a national scale, several times this week. It is a tragedy that [Trump] the President is not able to see them for what they are.

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