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Speaking Out Against Hate: SPLC Intelligence Project Director tells congressional panel that white supremacy threatens communities, education and democracy

SPLC Intelligence Project Director Susan Corke testified yesterday before the House Committee on Homeland Security’s “Countering Violent Extremism, Terrorism, and Antisemitic Threats in New Jersey” field hearing. Corke delivered the following oral remarks. Her complete written testimony was submitted for the subcommittee hearing record.

I am Susan Corke, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today for this important hearing, which comes at a precarious time for American democracy.

There has been a disturbing rise in antisemitic incidents in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country. This uptick in hate-fueled activity is part of a larger hard-right movement that stokes the fires of antisemitism, promoting racism, fear and extremist violence. Antisemitism, in addition to being a toxic form of prejudice, is also an animating feature of white nationalist ideology and often a leading indicator that a society is more broadly infected and divided by racism.

Established in 1971, the SPLC has been tireless in finding and rooting out hate and extremist groups to create a more fair, inclusive and unified nation. The Intelligence Project, which I direct at SPLC, has deep expertise in monitoring and exposing – as well as countering – the activities of hundreds of domestic hate groups and other extremists across the country – including the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, antigovernment militias and others.

White supremacy has gone mainstream, which increasingly threatens people of color, our communities, our education system and democracy itself. The “great replacement” narrative has become mainstream on the political right over the past few years. This racist conspiracy, which says there is a systematic, global effort to replace white, European people with nonwhite, foreign populations, provides the central framework, rooted in antisemitic ideology, for the white supremacist movement. The theory has normalized and fostered greater acceptance of political violence in America and has motivated many deadly, terror attacks.

Having lived in New Jersey with my African American, Muslim spouse and daughter, I can attest that New Jersey exhibits some of the most incredible benefits of living in a multiracial democracy. However, it was antisemitism which fueled a December 2019 deadly shooting at a Jewish market in Jersey City, New Jersey, where I was living at the time.

I want to urge the committee to focus on the need to invest more in the prevention of radicalization. We want to stop hate crimes before they are committed, and build stronger, more resilient communities.

My written statement provides details on some of the 26 hate and antigovernment groups SPLC tracked in New Jersey in 2021, which includes a statewide chapter of the Proud Boys as well as other notorious groups on the hard right, including Patriot Front, the Oath Keepers, as well as the New Jersey European Heritage Association.

SPLC has been closely tracking the anti-government, heavily armed extremist Oath Keepers group and the multiple Oath Keeper chapters in New Jersey from Morristown to Cape May. Oath Keeper leaders consistently pushed for a “second civil war” in the buildup to Jan. 6. Several leaders of the Oath Keepers are currently on trial for seditious conspiracy.

The Oath Keepers organization is in some disarray as it faces justice. However, more than 40 members of the violent Proud Boys also face charges in relation to J6 alleged activities, including at least two men from New Jersey yet their influence has grown not waned; the number of active Proud Boys chapters increased 67% from 2020 to 2021.

We strongly believe that all who helped plan, finance, inspire, and perpetrate the deadly Jan. 6 attack must be held accountable. Without such accountability, our democracy will continue to be at risk with false and nefarious attacks on our elections, voting rights and the diversity that makes us strong.

What can we do? My written statement includes many policy recommendations. Let me highlight five.

  • Expand Anti-Racism Education and Upstream Prevention Initiatives: We must bolster community well-being and work to inoculate young people against radicalization. To do that, we must increase funding for prevention and anti-racism education initiatives.
  • Speak Out Against Hate, Political Violence and Extremism: Words matter. It is impossible to overstate the importance of leaders condemning hate and extremism whenever it occurs.
  • Enforce Hate Crime Laws Already on the Books and Improve Hate Crime Data Collection Efforts: After 30 years of incomplete data and consistent FBI HCSA [Hate Crime Statistics Act] underreporting, Congress and the Biden administration should support mandatory hate crime reporting.
  • Improve Government Response to Domestic Extremism: and fund digital literacy initiatives, and research on best evidence-based prevention programs.
  • Promote Online Safety and Hold Tech and Social Media Companies Accountable: Social media companies should not enable the funding or amplifying of white supremacist ideas or provide a haven for extremists. Full stop.

Thank you for holding this hearing. We deeply appreciate the committee’s attention to the issue of antisemitism and extremist threats to New Jersey and our nation. We stand ready to work with you as you continue to focus on this important issue.

Photo at top: Susan Corke, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security on Oct. 3, 2022, during its field hearing on “Countering Violent Extremism, Terrorism, and Antisemitic Threats in New Jersey.” (Credit: Dan Chung)