Just two days ago, Charles Kurzman, sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University, wrote this in a New York Times op ed:
The main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists. Just ask the police.
In a survey we conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum last year of 382 law enforcement agencies, 74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism.
Monitoring hate groups and right-wing extremists is one of the central missions of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an extraordinary organization that, as we’ve noted before, has “crippled some of the country’s most notorious hate groups by suing them for murders and other violent acts committed by their members.” Just look at their current docket. Sadly, as today’s tragic news only confirms, hate in America isn’t weakening:
Since 2000, the number of hate groups has increased by 30 percent. This surge has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of the nation’s first African-American president.
These factors also are feeding a powerful resurgence of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, which in the 1990s led to a string of domestic terrorist plots, including the Oklahoma City bombing. The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, skyrocketed following the election of President Obama in 2008 – rising 813 percent, from 149 groups in 2008 to an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012. The number fell to 874 in 2014.
This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive.
Nineteen of these hate groups, “including two factions of the Ku Klux Klan and four ‘white nationalist’ organizations,” still call South Carolina home. Equally disturbing, as the SPLC notes today,"Black churches, including those in South Carolina, have been the targets of hate crimes throughout our country's history.”
Indeed, back in 1995, members of the Christian Knights burned down the Macedonia Baptist Church, a South Carolina African-American church. Three years later, “a South Carolina jury award[ed] the largest judgment ever against a hate group in Macedonia v. Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The Christian Knights, its state leader and four other Klansmen [were] ordered to pay $37.8 million (later reduced to $21.5 million)." Writes SPLC:
The civil judgment forced the Klan to give up its land and headquarters. When the property was sold, the deed included a restriction that the land never be used for white supremacist activities.
The judgment in this case transformed the Christian Knights from one of the most active Klan groups in the nation to a defunct organization.
Clearly, the shooter in the Charleston church massacre (a terrorist hate crime if there ever was one) is aligned with - if not part of - similar organizations. These groups haven’t exactly been hiding out lately. For example, in Seneca, South Carolina last year,
[R]esidents in Oconee County reportedly found bags in their street containing candy and a leaflet with the message "Save Our Land, Join the Klan." It had a phone number that led to an automated message discussing KKK efforts against illegal immigration.
In the same month, a KKK rally was held in Abbeville, according to NBC station WYFF….
South Carolina is one of only five states that does not have a hate crimes law, according to campaign group SC Equality, although a recent extension of federal law means there are legal protections for victims of hate crimes in all states.
If indeed, it’s determined that this evil individual (who shall go nameless here) is connected to any of these hate groups, we hope (and have no doubt), SPLC will attempt to sue them out of existence. Seems like we need this now more than ever.