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Hate Groups vs Domestic Terrorists

To understand hate groups and domestic terrorist groups, one must first understand the difference between the two.

Definition of a Hate Group

A hate group is a group that advocates and practices hatred towards groups specifically because of their race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, among other things. According to the FBI, a hate group’s “primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization”.

Definition of a Domestic Terrorist Group

Domestic terrorist groups on the other hand are groups who plan to use violence against their own country to meet their goals. They usually have two goals; to convince who they view as their enemy to meet their demands and to garner support for their cause.

Main Point

Terrorists Groups and true hate groups are certainly similar. Determining who belongs to which group often comes down to splitting hairs when deciding which classification is given to an act of violence. The primary difference between the two is the motive behind the crimes they commit. There can be a very fine line but not all hate groups promote violence. By contrast, domestic terrorists plan to use violence to meet their goals, only some hate groups will resort to violence.

Who Decides Who’s a Hate Group?

The biggest issue with hate groups however is the actual classification of “hate group”. It often depends on the values of the group making the classifications. The Southern Poverty Law Center is one such group that has a website dedicated to classifying groups as hate groups. Their website states that they are a “non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists”. Earlier this year they classified the Christian group “Alliance Defending Freedom” as a hate group. According to Alliance Defending Freedom’s website, they devote themselves to defending “religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family”. The Southern Poverty Law Center also list some groups as anti-government hate groups who believe in the “Bill of Rights interpreted according to the actual intent of the Founding Fathers”.

Regardless of one’s agreement or disagreement with these groups, neither have conducted or condoned violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center list these groups because their beliefs differ from that of the SPLC’s beliefs. There is a stark difference between many of these “hate groups” and real domestic terrorist groups. Often they lump all into one group, but they are not all the same.

Domestic Terrorists

Domestic terror isn’t exclusive to the United States. Many countries have people who want to overthrow the government and groups who believe their race is superior than others. Domestic Terrorists in the United States are much like their European counterparts that we discussed earlier in Travel Threats in Europe: Domestic Terrorism. Domestic terrorist groups usually carry out attacks meant to influence a specific audience. Anti-abortion terrorist bomber Eric Rudolph is an example of that type of mentality. Rudolph carried out the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing, among other abortion clinic bombings in the late 1990’s, to attempt to embarrass Washington D.C. for its stance on abortion.

Photo Credit: AP Hate Group - Ku Klux Klan

Photo Credit: AP
Ku Klux Klan

Where Are They Located?

Unfortunately domestic terror groups are found throughout the country. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, who many believe are predominantly in the southeast, are found in most states. They certainly have more followers in the southeast but they also have followers in the midwest, northeast, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California.

Types of Domestic Terror Groups

There are several types of domestic terrorist groups and all are potentially deadly. Domestic terrorist groups range from anti-abortion groups, Eco-terrorists, animal rights activists, white supremacists, black separatists, radical Christian groups, anti-government, as well as communists and Marxist groups.

Right or Left Wing Incidents – Who Decides?

Deciding which side an attack lands is much like deciding if a group is a hate group or not.  The decision often is inconsistent and biased, and depends on several factorsAn example of that is John Patrick Bedell who carried out the March 2010 Pentagon shooting and is labeled as a right-wing terrorist. Bedell was a registered Democrat, opposed the Gulf War, and hated President George Bush. He is obviously a deranged murderer, but hardly a “right-wing” terrorist.

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) is one such organization that attempts to decide. They released their findings in an April 2017 report titled “Countering Violent Extremism. Many in the media cite this report when discussing domestic terrorist statistics.  The report states that from September 12, 2001 until December 2016 that “no persons in the United States were killed in attacks carried out by persons believed to be motivated by extremist environmental beliefs, extremist “animal liberation” beliefs, or extremist far left beliefs”. GAO’s report seems to simply ignore several left-wing incidents that compare to many of the incidents contributed to right-wing groups. The report list prison murders and gang initiations as right-wing terrorist attacks, if anyone with any association with a hate group conducted the attack. There are several inconsistencies that we will discuss.

Eric Frein vs Micah Xavier Johnson

The list cites the murder of one Pennsylvania State Police Officer by Eric Frein. Frein also injured another officer in the 2014 police barracks ambush attack. A letter he left to his parents made clear that his intentions were to spark a revolution as a result of his actions.

Dallas Police Shooter Micah Xavier Johnson

Dallas Police Shooter Micah Xavier Johnson

Compare Frein to Micah Xavier Johnson who ambushed and killed five Dallas police officers, injuring nine others, and wounding two civilians. Johnson stated to police during negotiations that he “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers”. Investigators stated that they found no ties to domestic terrorism. However, the New York Times conducted an investigation into his online activity and it revealed his interest into black nationalist groups such as the New Black Panther Party.

Both instances involve males ambushing police officers with an agenda of creating chaos. One stated that he wanted to kill people of a certain race. The other stated that he wanted to start a revolution. Regardless of how they are labeled, both men intended to cause fear among a group and to garner support for their cause.

Police Shootings vs Baton Rouge Police Shooting

There are a total of six other police shootings listed in the GAO report. It states the perpetrators are anti-government, white supremacist, or sovereign citizens. The list does not include however Gavin Long, the July 2016 Baton Rouge police shooter which left three officers dead and three others wounded. Long expressed his hatred of white people and mentioned the co-founder of the Black Panther Party in a ten-minute video he made before the attack. He was also a Nation of Islam member, a group listed by many as a black separatist group.

Other Questionable Incidents

Probably the most head scratching decision is the one by the GAO to deem the July 28, 2009 murder of Ronald Lee Hudson, Sr an act of “far right” violence. According to the GAO report, Hudson was murdered by his “white supremacist” stepson in order for the stepson to “gain street cred”. But various reports indicate that the perpetrator, Michael Cavalli, shot Hudson, Sr. because he was intimidated by his stepfather. Hudson, Sr. had reportedly once shoved Cavalli against a wall and forcefully kissed him on the mouth. Is this an act of terrorism or the murder of a parent?

Also consider the September 2015 murder of Kentucky State Police officer Joseph Cameron Ponder by Joseph Johnson-Shanks. Shanks was a Obama supporter and had attended the funeral of Mike Brown in Ferguson. He also is a Black Lives Matter activist, but his attack on a police officer is not on the list.

Finally, Christopher Harper-Mercer conducted the October 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College. The GAO report lists him as a “Far Right Violent Extremist” and states that he is a “white supremacist” although he is of mixed race. There was also no evidence that he was involved with any political movement, although he had writings that discussed his hatred of blacks. He hated religion and he was reportedly fascinated with the fame that other mass shooters had received. He is certainly a murderer, likely a racist, but the fact that he hates religion and was infatuated with previous mass murderers doesn’t exactly put his values in line with that of the right.

GAO vs Department of Homeland Security

The GAO report also counters what the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported in May 2017. The DHS report states that Black Separatist Extremists were second in deaths with 12 people killed, slightly behind White Supremacist Extremists which killed 14 individuals.

Hate Groups vs Domestic Terrorist Groups

New Jersey Department of Homeland Security Report

How Many Deaths/Injuries?

Finding an exact number of deaths caused by

Nidal Hasan Photo Credit: Bell County Sheriff's Office

Nidal Hasan Photo Credit: Bell County Sheriff’s Office

any terror group is not an easy task. Much like with determining who classifies a group as a hate group, crimes/attacks are often classified much the same way. The GAO report is often used as a source but not always. Major Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist who fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood, is a good example of an incident classified different ways by official government agencies. The 2009 case is considered a Radical Islamist Violent Extremist attack by the GAO. The Department of Defense, however, classified it as “workplace violence” even though a series of emails between Hasan and Yemen-based radical Imam Anwar al-Awlaki were found.

Should Black Lives Matter be Listed?

The Southern Poverty Law Center defines hate groups as “those that vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity”. Black Lives Matter (BLM) has certainly had their share of supporters who committed violent and deadly acts. Gavin Long, Joseph Johnson-Shanks, and Micah Xavier Johnson are a few who we mentioned earlier. BLM has also cost taxpayers millions in damages from property damaged during protests. The Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore cost the city $9 in damages, Ferguson cost at least $5.7 million, and the September 2016 Keith Lamont Scott protests in Charlotte, N.C. cost taxpayers $4.6 million. Those are just three of the highest profile incidents.

Do these incidents make BLM a hate group? While there have been deaths contributed to BLM supporters and the cost of their violent protests continue to increase, there are two factors that keep them from being placed on the list as a hate group. Those two items are 1) their leaders continue to speak out against the violent acts that some of their followers are conducting. And 2) they have many white followers.

Are Eco-Terrorists Really a Danger?

Eco-Terrorists are extremist environmental and animal rights groups. The groups have claimed responsibility for hundreds of crimes, mostly arson, which caused more than $200 million between 2003 and 2008. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is one of those groups. In 2001, the FBI labeled the group as the top “domestic terror” threat in the United States. They use arson as a tool to disable anything they deem as a threat to the environment or a threat to animals.

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and his three deaths and twenty-three injuries are tied to environmentalists. Several media groups label his letter-bomb attacks as acts of independent eco-terrorism.

Who is Antifa?

Antifa is a militant anti-facist political movement made up of several, self-described anti-facist groups. Their members oppose any form of racism and sexism. Antifa militants are also anti-homophobia and anti-capitalist. They do not seek to change policy thru traditional means, instead preferring to use violence and the threat of violence to force change. They are more closely aligned with anarchists than the mainstream left.

Hate Group: Antifa

Antifa counter protestors in Charlottesville
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Antifa disrupted the 2017 Avenue of Roses Parade after hearing that the Multnomah County Republican Party would participate. They sent emails to the parade organizers threatening to “rush into the parade” and “drag and push” the Republicans marching in the parade. The parade was later canceled due to safety concerns. But Antifa not only threatens violence, they also have a history of conducting violent acts. They carried out violent protests against President Donald Trump’s inauguration. They were also behind the 2017 violent protests in Berkeley. Those protests were an effort to stop a planned conservative talk at the University of California, Berkeley. During those protests, Antifa members beat people with flag poles and pepper-sprayed several Trump supporters. Antifa was also present in Charlottesville and were in a deadly altercation with white supremacists protesting there.

Bottom Line

Domestic Terrorism is a growing problem in America but it is not as epidemic as many want you to believe. Overall “domestic terrorist” attacks are fairly uncommon and don’t come close to 1971 and 1972. During that time the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on U.S. soil, or nearly five a day. It is certainly on the rise and the recent actions of Antifa should concern all Americans. 

Antifa believes in the use or threatened use of force to silence their opponents. That tactic isn’t likely to continue to go unaccounted for by their rivals. The rise in tensions and current disregard for opposing opinions will likely create a very volatile environment in the months to come. Expect more violence on both sides because neither is likely to give in. Expect future protests to be potential flashpoints.