For more than 50 years, the Southern Poverty Law Center has worked to expose hate, violence and extremism in the Deep South and across the United States. In the last decade alone, we have witnessed a resurgence of white nationalism and violent extremism that has torn apart the fabric of our democracy and left countless communities grieving and feeling unsafe, unseen and unwelcome.
We all must be vigilant against hate today, especially as tragic events abroad inflame tensions here at home. Earlier this month, we watched in horror as Hamas led an unconscionable attack against Israeli civilians, killing more than 1,000 people and kidnapping hundreds. The tragedy has only continued as Palestinian civilians in Gaza — many of whom are children — have been killed by airstrikes and cut off from food, clean water, medical care and life-saving supplies. It is a humanitarian crisis of unspeakable proportions that has already left thousands dead. Our hearts are with all those who are suffering.
While the SPLC supports the advancement and protection of the human rights of all people, we focus our work within the Deep South and the United States. It is outside of our purview and expertise to comment on international events. But let me be clear: We condemn hate and violence in every form. We denounce all acts of terrorism. And we reject any attempt to prejudice or persecute communities pushed to the margins.
Where we can — and indeed, must — use our voice is when violent extremism and hate devastate families and communities within our borders. The SPLC tracks organizations that promote hate and extremism, and recently we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the targeting of Jewish and Muslim communities. In the two weeks following the attack on Israel, we documented at least 12 violent incidents related to demonstrations, two acts of violence against Palestinian Americans, including the tragic murder of a child in Illinois, and five bomb threats to Jewish synagogues. We know that many more acts of violence have not been officially reported. It is a collective failure of the very worst kind when our neighbors are beaten, brutalized and even murdered simply for how they look, where they worship or where they come from.
In this perilous moment, the SPLC remains steadfast in our commitment to combat hate — a commitment strengthened by our own history and experience of terror. On July 28, 1983, the offices of the SPLC in Montgomery, Alabama, were fire-bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. While the perpetrators of the attack were later arrested and successfully prosecuted, it left a legacy of fear and a concern for security that continues to affect our staff today. We understand too well the intentions behind hate violence — to frighten and silence people, to drive wedges between one community and another, to rob us of hope.
It’s no wonder that so many people across the U.S. are overwhelmed, bereft and in search of some way to make a difference — to end this agonizing cycle of hate. How can we begin to ensure the ideals of equity, justice and liberation are a reality for all?
Before I came to the SPLC, I spent years advocating for human rights protections in war-torn parts of the world. I went to Rwanda to meet with officials in the aftermath of genocide. I visited with survivors of mass slaughter in Cambodia. I spent time with displaced women and children in Syria. In every region, I witnessed firsthand the devastation of everyone and everything touched by war. I saw how that devastation is only made more horrific when we allow hate to beget more hate.
But in those same places, I also saw a triumph of the human spirit. I saw what’s possible when we turn toward each other’s suffering. When, even amid our pain, we deepen our capacity to hope; we listen and engage one another with empathy and compassion. These crises will not be solved overnight, but our lives are bound together — and we must find ways to help and support the innocent.
In the days ahead, the SPLC will continue our work tracking hate and extremism and calling on our government to respond to the growing threat of hate-motivated violence in the United States. And, importantly, we will share resources to help teachers, families and impacted communities facilitate open and honest dialogue about hard history and ongoing systemic injustice. As we’ve learned from that history, and from the centuries of freedom fighters who risked everything for their human rights, change is possible. A better future for us is on the horizon — if only we link arms in solidarity and achieve it together.