Around the world, governmental efforts to combat intolerance and racial hatred are on the rise. For several years now, countries of the European Union have been working out ways of complying with regional laws that require antiracist measures.
In Sweden this January, Prime Minister Göran Persson hosted 53 national delegations at the Stockholm International Forum: Combating Intolerance. These and other efforts culminate in Durban, South Africa, next August, when the countries of the United Nations gather for a long-awaited "world conference" on hate.
Still, hatred spreads. In the United States, Europe and beyond, dangerous currents of ethnic nationalism are continuing to swell. With Americans and others facing a likely economic downturn, the future may hold even worse.
Relatively tiny Sweden — known for decades for its good-natured tolerance and open-mindedness — is a good example. A number of racist murders have shaken the country in recent years, and young right-wing radicals have shocked its citizenry with large neo-Nazi rallies.
More than 12% of Swedish youths at least occasionally listen to racist "hatecore" music. Even as these facts were discussed at the Stockholm gathering, the Swedish prime minister announced that he had sickening news — a 15-year-old black boy had just been murdered in nearby Norway, allegedly by six neo-Nazis.
"We see an alarming rise in right-wing extremism throughout Europe," Prime Minister Persson told the assembled delegates. "All of us have to heed the warning."
Nationalism in America
That is certainly true of the United States, too.
As reported in this issue of the Intelligence Report, the number of hate groups operating in the United States climbed by approximately 10% to more than 600 last year, and the number of hate sites on the Internet jumped 20% to 366.
These increases were fueled by the recruiting power of racist music; the rapidly rising popularity of racist forms of neo-Paganism, especially Odinism; and the growth of white, black and anti-immigrant ethnic nationalism around the country.
Several versions of this ethnic nationalism are detailed in this issue and in other, recent editions of the Intelligence Report. One of the most pervasive is that brand of racist white nationalism exhibited by a number of "pro-South" hate groups like the neo-Confederate League of the South.
Such views now also appear to be leaking into mainstream groups like the historically apolitical Sons of Confederate Veterans, which recently added a notorious white supremacist to its ruling council.
High levels of non-white immigration and the predicted loss of a white majority in America sometime after 2050 also have fueled nativist sentiment. This issue's cover story explains how groups on the radical right have increasingly taken up the issue of immigration, and suggests that vigilante violence will increase if the economy sours.
'Our Children's Future'
How will the world deal with these phenomena?
As has happened elsewhere in recent years, the issue of legislation aimed at "hate propaganda" split the Stockholm conference. The American delegation — of which I was a part as a representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center — was united in its opposition to laws criminalizing hate speech on the Internet and denial of the Holocaust.
Most other countries around the world clearly favored such measures, seeing the Americans as naïvely attached to the First Amendment.
That the problem of spreading right-wing extremism is real, however, was not seriously disputed.
"I think we should look at this very seriously," Swedish extremism expert Mattias Gardell told the Intelligence Report. "Even though some of this stuff looks very bizarre — why pay attention to people who believe in old gods like Thor and Odin or UFO cults or Hitler being alive inside the hollow earth or this whole New Age concept? — it still has a lot of potential.
"A return to fascism would not come in the same way today. But I think we need to watch this scene carefully, even if it is not a direct threat to American or European democracy today."
Quoting Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Prime Minister Persson voiced similar worries. "Will our past," he wondered, "become our children's future?"