The recent shooting rampage at a Sikh Gurdwara (house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisc., emphasizes the importance of allocating adequate resources to prevent domestic terrorist attacks. The shooter, Wade Michael Page, was a member of the Hammerskin Nation, one of the most violent white supremacist groups in the country. We are deluding ourselves if we do not see the parallel between intolerant or hateful rhetoric and its inevitable consequence. Key issues in our national discourse in 2010 correlate to the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. For example, the controversy surrounding the Park 51 Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, the building of “mega-mosques” around the country, and the threat by a Florida pastor to burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11—all of these instances contributed to a rising anti-Muslim sentiment in America.The vitriolic discourse can also be linked to bias-based violence against other communities. For instance, hate crime against the LGBT community has risen 36 percent from 2005 to 2010. This is in part because of the extreme rhetoric of opponents of the marriage equality movement. Such targeted violence is one symptom of a deeper and more widespread illness plaguing this great nation—the discrimination and “othering” of minority communities.There is a need to observe the specific instances of hate violence within the broader context of discrimination and domestic terrorism. In failing to focus on groups espousing supremacist ideologies, we overlook a major source of the problem. The Southern Poverty Law Center has taken the lead to call on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reassess its use of resources to monitor extremist groups in America.
Daryl Johnson, author of the DHS Report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, focuses our attention on the federal government’s oversight in its efforts to understand and monitor hate groups. He has reported that “in the face of enormous media and congressional criticism, DHS made the decision to cancel all of its domestic-terrorism-related reporting and training for law enforcement.”
The 2009 DHS Report highlighted key triggers that potentially motivate hate groups. These triggers included economic downturn, election of a black president, illegal immigration, gun control, and hate groups recruiting military veterans. With the 2012 election in full swing, recognizing these triggers becomes all the more relevant for the safety of officials and law enforcement today.
As a pluralistic nation that cherishes and protects freedom of expression, we must not forget that we also have an affirmative obligation to counter expressions of hate. Lawmakers, community leaders, media, and others in the public consciousness must be aware of the rising threat of hate or bias-related violence, and furthermore, must take responsibility for fighting bigotry and promoting tolerance. Only by amplifying our voices against the rhetoric of hate and the violence that often results can we be a stronger, safer, and more unified nation.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article reported a 43% increase in hate crimes against Muslims. The correct figure is 42%.