Number of Hate Groups Continues to Rise

Editorial

Animated by the ugly rhetoric of the nativist movement, the number of hate groups in America grew 5% last year to a total of 888. The increase translated into a 48% jump in hate groups since the year 2000 and was accompanied by reports of rising violence against Latinos and others perceived to be undocumented immigrants.

The continuing increase was troubling and was attributable, in part, to the pundits and politicians who have fueled anti-immigrant feeling with false propaganda about immigrants' health, criminality, and contributions to the economy. It came along with new FBI statistics that indicate a 35% increase in hate crimes against Latinos — victims often assumed to be undocumented foreigners — during the period 2003-06.

But the news may not be all bad.

Just last summer, the nativists were riding high. In July, thanks largely to a massive effort by a group called Numbers USA, the movement helped kill a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that had been expected to pass. Three months later, the same movement, led this time by talk radio hosts, managed to scuttle the DREAM Act, a law that would have helped undocumented high school students seeking to continue their education to become eligible for legal status.

In addition, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, (R-Colo.), Congress' hardest-line critic of illegal immigration, was running for president and vowing to force other GOP candidates to take up the "invasion" that he saw as "an attack on our culture." Amid a welter of demonizing rhetoric, Tancredo called for deporting 12 million people.

But it now appears that Tancredo — and his shills, from right-wing talk radio hosts to "mainstream" pundits like CNN's Lou Dobbs — may have misjudged the situation. There are indications that nativist hate may not be that successful an electoral strategy.

By the time the Iowa caucuses rolled around early this year, support for Tancredo's one-issue candidacy in that state had dropped to 2% from a high of 5% last summer. Tancredo quit the race before the Iowa voting started, announcing his departure at a press conference attended by a mere 18 staffers and supporters. As he left, he claimed to have forced other GOP candidates to take up his crusade.

By then, however, the atmosphere seemed to be changing. Several immigrant rights organizations had begun to fight back against the attacks on undocumented immigrants. At around the same time, the Southern Poverty Law Center named America's largest nativist group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, as a hate group, based on its ties to white supremacist ideas and groups. And polls were beginning to show declines among voters seeing immigration as a top issue.

Then came the primary in Florida, seen as an especially important bellwether state because its demography is similar to that of the United States overall. Exit polls among Republicans showed a mere 16% viewed "illegal immigration" as the most important issue; for 66%, either the Iraq war or the economy was more pressing. In fact, after the voting, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that Florida had showed that "the big conservative issues did not bark, once again. Can we please stop pretending that immigration is a good issue for Republicans?"

Certainly, immigration is an important topic and one that needs to be debated. Just as certainly, it is a multifaceted problem, one in which different viewpoints and voices are needed. But the angry name-calling of men like Tom Tancredo does nothing to advance the debate. Fortunately, it appears that Americans, at least for now, may be rejecting racist demonization in favor of rational discussion of the issue.

Intelligence Report Honored
In December, the Intelligence Report was honored as the best U.S. periodical in the "In-Depth/Investigative Reporting" category of the prestigious 2007 Utne Independent Press Awards. The judges said the Report "reminds us that organized, violent racism — often written off as a troubling relic of a bygone era — endures. … Managing their wide-ranging mission by carrying on the fine but increasingly rare tradition of old-school investigative journalism, the writers and editors weed through mountains of paper, work the phones, hit the pavement and connect the dots."