Skip to main content Accessibility

SPLC CEO tells congressional panel that HBCU threats demand immediate response

SPLC and SPLC Action President and CEO Margaret Huang testified today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security about the recent threats targeting historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the rise in violence against other minority communal institutions. Huang delivered the following oral remarks. Her complete written testimony (SPLC Action Fund) was submitted for the subcommittee hearing record.

Huang’s comments start at the 1:15:05 mark (in video above).

Good morning, Chairwoman Jackson Lee, Ranking Member Biggs and members of the subcommittee. I am Margaret Huang, President and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the SPLC Action Fund.

The recent bomb threats against almost two dozen historically black colleges and universities over the last two weeks have been deeply impactful, threatening a collective sense of security and safety. These hateful threats, apparently timed to coincide with the beginning of Black History Month, are reminiscent of this country’s long history of white supremacist attacks on Black leaders and Black churches – attacks with the explicit goal of terrorizing black communities to assert control.

Of the 107 HBCUs in the United States, 44 are located in the five states in the Deep South where the SPLC has a significant presence and commitment to social justice – including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. These threats impact both our community and our staff. We have staff members who are proud HBCU alumni and many others who have children and family members who are HBCU graduates or current students.

It has been almost 60 years since Ku Klux Klan members bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four schoolgirls. Yet we are still grappling with hateful acts targeting racial and religious minorities. At a time when many states are passing laws restricting teaching about racism, it is clear that more needs to be done to teach our young people the unvarnished truth about American history — both good and bad — so that we can apply these lessons to shape a better world for generations to come. 

To help the subcommittee understand the context for the racist attacks on the HBCUs, our written testimony describes:

  • How the current extremist threat is being mainstreamed;
  • How to prevent hate crimes and address online radicalization;
  • The importance of evidence-based violence prevention initiatives; and
  • The need to ensure that our students have digital literacy skills, taught in an inclusive educational environment.

When our educational and religious communities are targeted for violence and vandalism, it is imperative that the needs of survivors are prioritized.

Our instinct is to increase physical security for our houses of worship and community institutions – higher walls, more cameras, more bulletproof glass and even armed guards. But these steps must be coupled with a commitment to fund research and prevention initiatives to address hate and long-term contributors to extremism.

Press reports indicate that the FBI has focused its investigation on six radicalized, “tech-savvy” youthful suspects. One of the young offenders reportedly claimed a connection with the Atomwaffen Division — a terroristic, neo-Nazi organization we have been tracking over the past five years.

The criminal acts committed by these persons of interest are deeply disturbing, but the possible connection to extremist groups underscores the need for parents, educators and communities to be attuned to signs of radicalization and help inoculate young people against being drawn into an extreme and hateful path.

We are pleased that the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have launched criminal investigations into this case.

But more must be done.

My testimony includes several policy recommendations for Congress and the administration.

First, words matter. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of elected officials and community and business leaders using their public platforms to condemn these threats to HBCUs and vandalism and violence against houses of worship and other institutions. We urge members of Congress and administration leaders to continue to speak out against these threats of violence.

Second, continue giving attention and conducting oversight on extremism and prevention.  We appreciate the attention this committee, this Congress and the Biden administration have devoted to addressing white supremacy and extremism in all forms.

And third, make investments in countering disinformation, developing prevention strategies and offering anti-bias education. Disinformation and conspiracy theories are galvanizing attacks on our democracy and government institutions. Teachers must be able to teach the full truth – including about the hard history of slavery and racism and white supremacy in the United States.

We hope these hearings will spark congressional and federal agency action to authorize and fund long-term investments in anti-bias education, prevention strategies and civic engagement initiatives that can help secure a future in which all can gather, worship and live free of terrorist and extremist threats – in a nation as good as its highest ideals.

We cannot allow white supremacy, racism and bigotry to prevent our treasured HBCUs from being safe spaces where students can learn and grow.

We look forward to working with you as you continue your focus on this important issue.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.

Further reading

• SPLC condemns ‘abhorrent act of hate’ from young extremists

• HBCU students and leaders tell SPLC, ‘We are not afraid’ | Video

Top photo credit: Zach Gibson/Getty Images