“Beyond Fear and Hate” program at Temple Beth El outlined the proliferation of hate groups in the U.S.
By Barbara Lewis
Hate groups are proliferating in the United States, said Cassie Miller, senior research analyst for the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), reinforcing what many Americans feel in their gut.
Miller was the keynote speaker at the symposium “Beyond Fear and Hate,” April 14 at Temple Beth El, sponsored by Wayne State University’s Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Students and Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.
In 2018, the SPLC documented 1,020 hate groups, a 7 percent increase over the prior year.
A major factor in the surge is a fear of changing demographics among white men, said Miller, who holds a Ph.D. in history from Carnegie Mellon University.
Compared to all other minorities together, whites will soon be a minority in the United States, she said. Some see that as an “existential threat.”
Other factors in the increase are online radicalization, which has allowed expression of hate to become mainstream, and the “Trump effect” — the erosion of norms for public discourse — which has given license to attack those who are different or perceived as threatening.
“There was a surge of hate activity after the 2016 election, and the name of the president or the election were often cited,” she said. There was a 200 percent increase in hate speech in counties that voted for Trump.
Miller divided white nationalists into two groups: mainstream and neo-Nazis.
Mainstream hate groups appeal to average Trump voters with a clean-cut persona, she said. They avoid swastikas and similar symbols but claim the supposedly endangered white race should have the right to self-determination by segregating themselves from others.
These were the people behind the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., where they proclaimed, “Jews will not replace us.”
The lead organization in this arm recently changed its name from Identity Europa to the American Identity Movement. One of its main tactics is encouraging members to join the Republican Party and run for local office, Miller said.
The neo-Nazis are “accelerationists,” she said, whose goal is to tear down existing structures and replace them with fascist models. They focus on and fetishize violence, she added, and use cell-type organizing rather than a national structure; each member knows only a few others, making it difficult for law enforcement personnel to infiltrate.
Professor Howard Lupovitch, director of the Cohn-Haddow Center, also spoke at the program. He noted that there has been remarkably little anti-Semitic or anti-Israel activity at Wayne State, despite its large Muslim population, and said one reason was because Jews and Muslims have lived together in southeastern Michigan for more than a century.
A central component of anti-Semitism is fear of Jews, which is akin to Islamophobia, fear of Muslims, he said. Current efforts to keep Muslims from immigrating to the United States echo the atmosphere in the early part of the 20th century. Then, Jewish immigrants were accused of bringing disease and crime to the country and of being Communists, which was equivalent to accusing Muslims today of being terrorists. Earlier xenophobic sentiments culminated with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which severely curtailed immigration from Eastern Europe. The legislation effectively put an end to large-scale Jewish immigration.
“As Jews,” Lupovitch said, “we have no choice but to have empathy for immigrants today.”
The symposium, underwritten by Dr. Stanley Levy of Bloomfield Hills, also tied the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh to the growing tide of group-based hatred.