Hate Group Activity Declines In Colorado In 2020: Report

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The number of active hate groups in the United States declined for a second consecutive year in 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a new report, but warned that it’s more difficult to measure extremism in Colorado and other states as groups move to encrypted platforms during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading legal advocacy nonprofit, identified 838 hate groups operating across the country in 2020, down from 940 documented hate groups in 2019 and a record high 1,020 hate groups in 2018.

Hate crimes and those who commit them are defined differently by the FBI and Southern Poverty Law Center, and critics say the latter organization recklessly endangers people’s lives with broad definitions that lump conservative and extremist groups together, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate group activity by reviewing their publications; in direct reports from citizens, police agencies, field sources and the news media; and through its own investigations. It defines a hate group “an organization or collection of individuals that — based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities — has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”

The group’s “hate map” shows extremist groups are active in nearly all U.S. states. In Colorado, more than a dozen groups are active, including:

  • Act for America, anti-Muslim, Walsenburg

  • Asatru Folk Assembly, neo-Volkisch, statewide

  • Atomwaffen Division, neo-Nazi, statewide

  • Folks Front/Folkish Resistance, neo-Nazi, statewide

  • Great Millstone, general hate, Denver

  • Nation of Islam, general hate, Denver

  • National Socialist Order, neo-Nazi, statewide

  • Northern Kingdom Prophets, general hate, Pueblo

  • Patriot Front, white nationalist, statewide

  • Proud Boys, general hate, statewide

  • Sea Jay Foundation, anti-Muslim, Highlands Ranch

The report was released days after a national terrorism bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security warned of the potential for a wave of extremist violence following President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The agency said it didn’t have information indicating a specific, credible threat but suggested the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection may embolden extremists and set the stage for additional politically motivated attacks.

Homeland Security said in the bulletin that “we remain concerned that individuals frustrated with the existence of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances and ideological causes fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize a broad range of ideologically-motivated actors to incite or commit violence.”

Extremism Has Simmered For Years

Southern Poverty Law Center President and CEO Margaret Huang said in the group’s annual “Year in Hate and Extremism” report that anti-government extremism has been simmering for years, and racist conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology are now part of the political mainstream.

“For three decades, we have attempted to sound the alarm about these groups, their growth and the dangers they pose,” Huang said in a news release. “It is clearer now than ever that our nation faces an increasingly dangerous threat from homegrown extremists ranging from anti-government militias to hate groups and white supremacists.”

Investigators say the violent mob that broke into the Capitol included Donald Trump supporters continuing to fight the 2020 election results, but also people aligned with far-right groups, citizen militias and white supremacy groups, among others.

A proliferation of internet platforms allows these groups and individuals to coalesce with potentially violent movements such as the shadowy group QAnon, which the FBI has listed as a domestic terrorism threat, without being card-carrying members — blurring the boundaries of hate groups and those espousing far-right ideologies, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in its report.

“The insurrection at the Capitol was the culmination of years of right-wing radicalization,” Susan Corke, director of the organization’s Intelligence Project, said in the news release.

“Most recently, it was the product of Donald Trump’s support for and encouragement of radicalized individuals and groups to buy into conspiracy theories about a ‘stolen election,’ ” Corke said. “Trump may no longer be in the White House, but the white nationalist and extremist movement he emboldened and incited to violence is not going anywhere — and may grow more dangerous to our country.”

Some Arrested In Riot Have Extremist Ties

The FBI warned a day before the rioters stormed the Capitol last month that extremists planned to travel to Washington, D.C., to commit violence and wage “war” to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s election. Trump was impeached for a historic second time on a single charge that he incited the insurrection. The former president’s trial in the Senate begins later this month.

In its situational information report issued Jan. 5, the FBI said maps of Capitol complex tunnels were shared among people traveling to the nation’s capital to protest Biden’s certification, and that intelligence showed some rally participants planned to meet in various states and travel as a group to Washington.

Among the dozens of people charged so far in a sweeping Department of Justice investigation are several members of groups classified as extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Some notable arrests include:

  • Robert Gieswein, a 24-year-old Woodland Park, Colorado, man who was photographed brandishing a baseball bat while wrestling with Capitol Police officers, has ties to the Oath Keepers and a related group known as the Three Percenters, according to court records.

  • Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, both of Champaign County, Ohio; and Thomas Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Virginia — the first in the investigation to face conspiracy charges — are associated with the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia founded by military and law enforcement veterans, according to court records.

  • Joseph Biggs, 37, of Florida, is among at least five members of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys, arrested for their roles in the insurrection. The Proud Boys, whose members engaged in bloody street fights with activists protesting racial injustice this past summer, describe themselves as “Western chauvinists.” Trump infamously told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate against Biden in September.

  • Kevin Seefried, 51, of Laurel, Delaware, who carried a Confederate battle flag through the Capitol building, and his son, Hunter, face multiple charges. Kevin Seefried told authorities the flag of the Confederacy normally flies outside his home.

More than 180 federal cases have been filed against those involved in the Capitol Hill siege, according to a database maintained by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. The Department of Justice has received more 100,000 tips, including photos and videos taken the day of the riot, and says the number of people charged in its sweeping investigation is expected to swell. The analysis shows:

  • Those charged so far are residents of 39 states and the District of Columbia.

  • The average age of those charged is 40.

  • Cases have been brought against 158 men and 23 women.

The FBI defines a hate crime as one motivated by bias toward a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation, and the agency relies on voluntary reporting by police agencies, which has drawn criticism from civil rights groups.

Absent full participation, the Anti-Defamation League says the “total severity of the impact and damage caused by hate crimes cannot be fully measured.” It pointed out on its website that 86 percent of 15,000 participating agencies didn’t report a single hate crime to the FBI. Among them were at least 71 cities with populations over 100,000.

The Sikh Coalition has asked Congress to improve hate crime data collection, and the Arab American Institute says hate crimes against targeted groups are massively underreported. “Despite being reported as the deadliest anti-Latino attack in American history,” the group said on its website, a gunman’s 2019 attack on shoppers from Mexico outside an El Paso, Texas, Walmart wasn’t classified by the FBI as an anti-Hispanic attack, but as "anti-other race/ethnicity/ancestry.”

A total 23 people died in the El Paso attack, and 22 of those fatalities are reflected in a 2019 FBI hate crime report that showed a record 51 fatal attacks motivated by bias (the 23rd El Paso victim died in 2020). The report was released in November.

The FBI said hate crimes rose to their highest levels in a decade in 2019, and though the percentage of increase was small — just under 3 percent — the offenses were more violent than in years prior. 2019 also was the third consecutive year when more than 7,000 hate crimes were reported, a trend that hadn’t been seen since 2008.

In a summary of the report, the California-based Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism said “increases in hate crime were far more precipitous among the most violent offenses — homicides and assaults; those directed toward certain target groups, like Jews and Latinos; and in some of the nation's largest cities.”

Police agencies in Colorado reported 210 hate crimes to the FBI in 2019.

Klan Membership Continues To Drop

The Southern Poverty Law Center attributed the decline in hate group numbers in 2020 to several factors, including the halt to in-person activities due to the pandemic, their migration away from mainstream social media; and the continuing collapse of the Ku Klux Klan, a group long associated with white supremacy, as younger extremists move into newer groups that don’t carry the same stigma. Some trends:

  • There were only 25 active Klan chapters in the United States in 2020, down from 47 from the year prior and compared with as many as 150 active Klan chapters in years past.

  • There were 128 active white nationalist groups in 2020, down from 155 the year prior, but the SPLC said that may be because as neo-Nazi groups with similar ideologies coalesce, they’re more difficult to quantify.

  • The number of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate groups remained largely stable, though in-person organizing was curtailed due to the pandemic.

This article originally appeared on the Across Colorado Patch

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