Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney, San Diego Region
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project, Southern Poverty Law Center
Related Story: 13 Hate Groups Tracked In San Diego County
ST. JOHN: Today we'll talk about current trends in hate crimes. We all heard about the recent shooting in Wisconsin where a member of a skinhead band shot and killed 6 members of a Sikh Temple. We may have thought thank goodness it did not happen here, but could it? What is the situation with hate groups in San Diego, how active are they? Talking about things openly is one way to prevent them from flourishing in the dark. So we invited Heidi Beirich from the southern poverty law center to join us. Thanks so much for being with us.
BEIRICH: Thanks for having me.
ST. JOHN: And we also have U.S. attorney Laura Duffy, thanks so much for coming in.
DUFFY: Thank you. Good afternoon.
ST. JOHN: Heidi, your organization, the southern poverty law center keeps track of hate groups in the United States. And you publish an annual report. Are groups multiplying or decline something
BEIRICH: Unfortunately, they have been on the rise for over a decade now. In 2012, we had a count of 1,018 hate groups in the United States. That's almost doubling from the year 2000. So there's been a rise in these groups, interest in these union, and their rise in the establishment. It's been propelled by several things, changing demographics. If you're a racist, the fact that the country is becoming more diverse might motivate you to get involved in white supremacy.
ST. JOHN: What about groups in San Diego?
BEIRICH: There's about a dozen in San Diego and sort of, you know, larger area there. And they represent all kinds of groups. A handful of skinhead organizations who are active in the San Diego area. There's a political group called American third position that actually runs candidates for office. It's a white supremacist group. There are also black separatists that are active especially in downtown San Diego. The skinhead groups that exist are probably the most concerning, like Crew 38 for example because they tend to have members who are most involved in racist violence, especially hate crimes, just like Wade Page, the person who shot up the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin a few weeks ago. That's a place where you get a lot of rage and violence coming from.
ST. JOHN: The state attorney general's office put out a report this week that shows hate crimes are down slightly in California. And hate crimes based on sexual orientation and against Latino, immigrants, are down significantly. But crimes based on religion are up. Does that correspond at all with your findings?
BEIRICH: Well, there are several different ways that hate crimes are counted in the United States. California does a very good job. I would consider those numbers to be reflective of the trends in hate crimes that are going on right now. Anti-semitic hate crimes have been a growing concern according to the FBI. The Department of Justice surveys show the number of hate crimes across the U.S. is more like 200,000 a year because lots don't get recorded correctly, we have many states that don't count hate crimes against the LGBT community. So the problem, the phenomenon is in general greatly under counted according to the federal government.
ST. JOHN: So at this point, Laura Duffey, what is the threshold that determines when the FBI and consequently your office becomes involved in dealing with hate crimes?
DUFFY: Well, the FBI defines hate groups as groups or organizations whose primary purpose it is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against individuals who belong to a particular race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender different from the individuals within the organization. The FBI becomes involved in hate group investigations when essentially three criteria are present. And the FBI is operation under attorney general established guidelines for investigating these type of of hate groups or sometimes called domestic terrorist groups within the United States. One, that the group has presented a threat or is advocating the use of force. Secondly that the group has an apparent ability to carry out the proclaimed act. And third, the act would constitute a violation of federal law. Kind of the rub for law enforcement involvement in the investigation of these kinds of groups is that under the first amendment of the United States constitution, speech is protected. And the first amendment prohibits the United States government from passing laws and making laws that abridge the freedom of speech. So there are a lot of things that we as a general public may find offensive and troubling. Speech, however, alone is not actionable. There needs to be more. Conduct, the threats, the acts, the intimidation, the harassment. So it's at that point that the FBI and the federal office and other entities will become involved in these investigations.
ST. JOHN: That might account for the fact that the FBI's figures are much lower than yours.
BEIRICH: Well, the hate crime numbers are from the government, but the hate crime groups -- you have to protect for first amendment and freedom of speech, and there has to be some sort of evidence of a crime or thet for them to investigate. We're a nonprofit, so we keep 13ings of the groups as we wish. We have a definition that focuses heavily on ideology. So we really are looking at the words spoken by extremist organizations, not just their potential for criminal violence, although many of the groups on our list have a past that's quite violent.
DUFFY: If I could just interject. I think Heidi makes a good point. I think there are a couple. Factors at work here. One, hate crimes are in large part a voluntarily reported crime. And there is some hesitancy and fear and resistance for people to come forward and report those crimes. Take for example an individual, homosexual, who may not be out coming forward and reporting a crime against them based on their sexual orientation. That may trigger a whole series of things that that person then has to deal with. I think that Heidi is correct in her assessment that there are issues with the collection and compilation of data. There are a variety of hate -- antihate laws across the United States in states. So the collection and comparison of data does not always match up. And I think the FBI tries to make efforts to collect the data and to collect additional data in a uniformed way that brings it together so we have -- while not a completely accurate picture of the numbers, perhaps a more accurate picture of trends and tactics. So while the data, the raw data numbers may not be as useful as some of the other information that we're getting from the data collection.
ST. JOHN: Okay. That's really what I wanted to ask you about. Trends. San Diego County used to be a hotbed for racist groups, Tom Metzger in North County, and some hotspots in east county as well. What are people in your office saying about hate crimes? Are they talking about the bad old days or worried about it now?
DUFFY: I think there may be some days in the past that were more troubling than what we see now. However, the FBI and our state and local law enforcement officials who are focused on this issue are very concerned, concerned about I would say three primary ideologies or threat streams. I would put at the top of that list the white supremist movement. The patriot movement organizations, and the animal rights ecoterrorist types of ideologies. And I think those kind of umbrella ideologies encompass a lot of the groups that Heidi mentioned. White supremist groups see the white race as superior to all other races. The patriot movement is probably best described by being made up of individuals who see and believe that the federal government is their worst enemy, and individuals who are involved in the animal rights and ecoextremist type ideologies are for the protection of animal rights and acting out against corporations and entities who do damage to the environment. So I think that there is a lot of concern. And there have been so many incidences of domestic terrorism in the United States since 1995 with the Oklahoma city bombing, to events as recent as the Sikh Temple shootings that this just has to remain a type priority for federal U.S. law enforcement in our state and local law enforcement officials.
ST. JOHN: I want to ask you specifically here in San Diego, where does that kind of domestic terrorism fall on your list of priorities? Would you say foreign terrorism is higher on your list? Or where does it fall? How much of a threat is it?
DUFFY: I wouldn't say it's higher on our list. Given the fact that we're located on the southwest border of the United States and law enforcement collectively is responsible and takes very seriously its onigation to protect our border from the infiltration of foreign terrorist groups, from the importation of individuals, the importation of weapons. We also must take very seriously and do take very seriously domestic terrorism and hate crime. And we take it in San Diego through a very robust working group directed at hate crime. The San Diego hate crimes coalition that is made up of members of local state and federal law enforcement. That group meets quarterly. We work on a number of different fronts to address a number of different goals. The prevention of hate crime from down into the elementary schools and the middle schools into the high schools looking at how bullying then transitions to violent activity in adulthood. And we work collaboratively with law enforcement officials in the collection of information, in the dissemination of information as far as trend and tactics, and we're very involved on each level in educating and holding public forums and doing outreach and really trying to address tolerance.
ST. JOHN: Interesting. Well, let's talk about the roots of this. Heidi, can you talk about recruitment? How do skinheads recruit new members?
BEIRICH: Well, for the most part, the people who end up joining racist white supremacist gains are the same kind of folks that end up in gangs in general, whether something like the Mexican mafia, crips, bloods, and so on. People who are suffering from particular stressors, broken family, and they run into somebody who's involved into a group, and it becomes a pseudoor second family. They all tend to describe the same kind of story, broken family, nowhere to turn to, and they somehow run into someone who's recruiting federal a skinhead group. And the No.†1 place where young people get recruited into these kind of movements is the music scene, the hate music scene. Wade Page involved in the Sikh Temple shooting was active in that scene. He had his own hate band. And they target kids directly. Oftentimes they pass out free music to high schools and so on. And that's the most direct recruiting method to get people involved in these hate groups.
ST. JOHN: Do we have a scene like that in San Diego?
DUFFY: Yeah, and interestingly this past summer the western Hammerskins publicly organized an event here in San Diego called the summer of hate concert. And it was held in El Cajon. It was organized by the Hammerskin nation, and it featured bands that played white power music. And it was reportedly attended by close to 100 people. And interestingly, an exskinhead and a former member of the hammerskins who spoke about this event described it as a successful event saying that for a local gig, it was an event that was well-attended, the organizer probably made back his money in ticket sales. But he noted that the event's purpose is not for money-making. These events as Heidi said are recruitment tools. They're about getting individuals in and specifically targeting kids and drawing them in with the music. This was an event offered not only the concert, but raffles and prizes with the money going toward building what they bill as a prisoner of war, an individual serving a California sentence in state prison for his involvement in the 1999 beating of an African American male in a bar near Temecula. So this is kind of a means to join people together and rally not around just the music but the cause.
ST. JOHN: So just in the minute that we have left, what does this the southern poverty law center suggest as a way to combat this? It's difficult from Laura's perspective. Are these groups more violent than other hate groups normally?
BEIRICH: I think you have to be particularly concerned about groups like the hammerskins and skinheads. I think what Laura said about tolerance and working in the schools is the heart of how you deal with stopping these groups from expanding. It's an education issue for the schools. And the other thing about it is law enforcement absolutely critical here. They are the bull work standing between us and the violence. Their knowledge about these organizations and what they're up to is very, very high, and that's what we need. We need law enforcement to be aware of the threat that these groups pose.
ST. JOHN: Okay. Eternal vigilance I guess is the word to describe this. Of it's not something that we can dismiss as being not in our community. It is alive and well here in San Diego County. I'd like to thank you both.
DUFFY: Thank you. It was a pleasure.