MLK Day 2011: UNH Combats Hate

The University Near Here has announced its activities for Martin Luther King Day 2011. Every year I wonder: will the celebration be horribly offensive (as in 2009), a dreadful joke (2010), or just undisguised and undistinguished leftist propaganda, reflective of the University's depressing ideological monoculture (2006 and 2007)? I'm going with the latter this time, but see what you think.

This year's theme is "Combating Hate" Now, being against "hate" is to snuggle in one of the most cozy blankets of moral superiority. Who in their right mind will say no to that? Not me, friend. I'm against hate! (Ahhhhh...feels good.) And I bet you are too! (Say it with me: "I'm against hate!" Ahhhh...)

But let's look at UNH's official explanation anyway:

It has been more than four and a half decades since Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington. King presented a vision of an America that lives up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all. However, the startilng [sic] rise of hate crimes and the extremism in recent years makes it clear that victory over prejudices and racial hostility remains elusive.

According to FBI statistics gathered for its Uniform Crime Reporting Program, hate crimes [missing preposition sic] LGBTQ, Latinos, Latinas, African American, Asian American, Arab Americans, Muslim and Jewish people have risen steadily for the last four years.

Pointing to grammar and spelling errors, even on a University website, is a cheap shot, sorry. [Update: the errors, present when this entry was originally posted, have been corrected.] But there's other sloppiness too: Note the "startilng" rise in hate crimes in the first paragraph. Compare with the assertion that hate crimes "have risen steadily" in the second paragraph.

So what kind of a rise is it, startling or steady?

Or maybe neither. The FBI just issued its latest report on hate crimes:

The number of hate crime incidents and victims declined in 2009 compared with the previous year, the FBI reported Monday. […] There were 6,604 hate crime incidents reported last year, down from 7,783 in 2008. There were 8,336 reported victims, down from 9,691 in 2008.

"But," you object, "maybe that's just a one year dip in an otherwise 'startling' or 'steady' rise." Well, there's nothing like checking for oneself. Let's look back, a few more years than four:

YearHate Crime Incidents
1999 7876
2000 8063
2001 9730
2002 7462
2003 7489
2004 7649
2005 7163
2006 7722
2007 7624
2008 7783
2009 6604

I could draw you a pretty graph, but the numbers are pretty easy to eyeball: If anything, the trend over the past 10 or so years is down.

UNH is not alone in pointing to a non-existent increase in hate crimes. Candidate B. Obama asserted in 2008: "We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate, as it's been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable." Not only was this untrue (as we've seen), this untruth was used to imply that the other side—by daring to debate immigration—was inciting violence. (Amusingly, although FactCheck deemed Obama's claim to be bogus at the time, Politifact rated it "Mostly True", maintaining their usual spot in Obama's back pocket. Unfortunately, neither was troubled by Obama's implication that his political opponents were fomenting criminal activity.)

Reasonable people will also differ on whether "hate" is an accurate or meaningful characterization of the underlying motivation for "hate crimes". Liberals and progressives love to decry their opponents as being "simplistic." But surely throwing a diverse array of unpleasant and antisocial behavior into a big pot labeled "HATE" is simplisticism on its face.

My guess, not that it matters, is that the underlying cause of "hate crimes" tends to be various forms of mental dysfunction—primarily plain old stupidity—coupled with one or more personality defects: fondness for aggression, a short temper, oversensitivity, … what have you. Also, mix in a high probability of substance abuse. (See Jacob Sullum for more on "hate crimes".)

Quibbling about statistics, hazy definitions, and sloppy language is fine, but that's not all that's going on. Blaming "hate" for crimes may not be accurate or meaningful, but it can be politically useful. As with Obama's statement in 2008, there's a political angle here too. You noticed UNH's finger-pointing at "extremism" in the blurb quoted above. That theme is continued and expanded in their description of the Commemorative Address, to be given by Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):

Activists [sic] and Civil Rights speaker Morris Dees discusses how our commitment to justice for all will chart our nation's future as America becomes more diverse, and economic disparity widens. Mr Dees will address the historical and current social, cultural, political and economic circumstances that have given rise to increases in the participation in hate groups, increases in hate crimes and the current political climate that fosters and empowers intolerance and hate in plain view in today's political discourse.

Hm: "the current political climate that fosters and empowers intolerance and hate in plain view in today's political discourse." Gosh, they're pretty cute about avoiding specifics, but I think we all know what and who they're talking about.

Check Dees' SPLC website. There's one tiny blink-and-you'll-miss suggestion that "hate" is not entirely on the right: a section on black separatists. But SPLC's "Hatewatch" blog is subtitled "Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right", and their blogroll is an uniform array of lefties: Kos, Firedoglake, Crooks and Liars, etc.

The SPLC tars with a very broad brush. Their "Intelligence Report" this year deemed the Tea Party movement to be "shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism." Most people with any familiarity with Tea Partiers realized this to be bullshit; unfortunately, the assertion was widely echoed in the lefty true-believer community. And no doubt the attendees at UNH's MLK shindig will hear some version of it as well.

SPLC is also in the business of designating "hate groups". And one way to be sure that you can point with alarm to "increases in the participation in hate groups" is to be ever-increasingly, um, liberal in your demonization. Jesse Walker at Reason observed that the SPLC "would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds." (Walker's blog post is short, but it's well worth reading for its well-targeted criticism of the SPLC's methodology and its links to further information.)

One of the "hate groups" named by the SPLC is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Unfortunately for the SPLC, FAIR didn't take this lying down, composing a detailed rebuttal and counteroffensive. (Summary here, full PDF here.)

In the eyes of the law, there is no such thing as a "hate group." It does not exist in federal statutes. It is a term entirely concocted by the SPLC. Moreover, the SPLC itself has no concrete definition. While lacking any useful specificity, the SPLC nonetheless deliberately uses this highly charged term to achieve political ends and to create an illusion that there is a surge of dangerous groups operating in America in order to increase the SPLC fundraising. In the process, the truth gets lost, reputations are damaged, and meaningful discourse on immigration policy is muted.

FAIR notes (as Jesse Walker did, above) that the SPLC has a pretty cynical (and widely recognized) motive for all its fearmongering and tarbrushing: it allows them to raise impressive amounts of cash from their easily-spooked donor base. Well, this is America. They have a perfect right to do that.

I recommend another Jesse Walker article appearing Reason last year: "The Paranoid Center." What's going on is an attempt to generate moral panic. Walker relates the early-60s "wave of alarm" about the "radical right", egged on, then as now, by a progressive/liberal coalition.

Philip Jenkins, a scholar at Pennsylvania State University who specializes in both the history of moral panics and the history of the American right, has described this period as the second of three "brown scares" ("brown" as in the brown shirts of fascism). The first came in the late 1930s and early '40s, when aides and allies of Franklin Roosevelt conflated genuine domestic fascists with critics who were far from Nazis. The third came in the mid-1990s, when Timothy McVeigh's mass murder in Oklahoma City set off a barrage of fear-mongering stories about the alleged militia menace in the heartland, helping Bill Clinton push through the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The anxieties of the latter period have the most in common with the cocktail of fears emerging in 2009.

It's unfortunate that UNH has cast its lot with the SPLC; Dees's undoubtedly well-paid appearance will almost certainly go unchallenged, and I'll wager not a contrary word will oppose his scarifying nonsense.

While UNH is (probably) less cynical about the issue than is Dees, that probably makes things worse: it puts the University firmly on the side of the "brown scare" effort to marginalize, demonize, and chill legitimate dissent from "progressive" positions on important issues.

Last Modified 2024-06-03 5:55 PM EDT