Where hate calls ‘home’ in Massachusetts
Chanting “blood and soil,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “white lives matter” — organized hate groups descended on Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, leading to the deaths of three people and injuries to dozens more.
The rally — and President Trump’s responses — rocked the nation. It also raised questions about how prevalent such groups are and whether they’re growing.
As Boston girds itself for a planned “Boston Free Speech” rally this weekend, it’s worth taking a look at the hate groups in Massachusetts that have been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
There are at least 12 such groups in Massachusetts, according to the nonprofit civil rights group.
Listed on the center’s 2016 annual “Hate Map,” they range from neo-Nazi and racist skinhead groups to black separatist groups
The groups include the neo-Nazi Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance; the racist skinhead Aryan Strikeforce; the anti-LGBT Mass Resistance and Abiding Truth Ministries; and the anti-Muslim ACT for America.
The Daily Stormer, the white supremacist website that promoted the Charlottesville rally and called 32-year-old rally victim Heather Heyer ‘‘fat’’ and ‘‘childless,” is listed as having two chapters in Massachusetts — one in Lowell and one in Cambridge.
The map also includes black separatist groups, including Nation of Islam chapters in Boston and Springfield.
The group said it compiles its list based on hate group publications and websites, citizen and police reports, news reports, and other sources. The groups have “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” the SPLC said on its website.
Some of the groups disputed their placement on the list. Brian Camenker, executive director of Mass Resistance, said, “The SPLC’s lurid tactics have been discredited across the political spectrum. They call almost every major conservative and pro-family group in the country a ‘hate group.’ And they list them alongside Nazi and KKK groups, for effect. It’s a phony and dishonest way of intimidating conservatives.”
Scott Lively, founder of Abiding Truth Ministries, said, “That’s nothing new. They’ve been taking that posture toward me for 15, 20 years.”
“I’m not impressed. I don’t think the Southern Poverty Law Center has any legitimacy as a neutral arbiter of who constitutes a hate group,” he said. “It’s really quite preposterous,” and “They’re partisan activists on the left pretending to have authority on who constitutes a a hate group on the right.”
The other groups could not be reached for comment or did not return messages seeking comment.
In November, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey set up a new hotline for residents to report alleged hate crimes and other “bias-motivated threats.” Since then, the attorney general’s office said Monday, the hotline has received more than 1,000 calls. Of those, 300 were considered substantive reports.
The greatest number of calls came from the Greater Boston area, an attorney general’s spokewoman said. The reports “varied widely” and included bullying, threats, vandalism, and harassment, based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
None of the reports involved any of the groups listed on SPLC’s “Hate Map,” the attorney general’s office said.
In February, NPR reported that the attorney general’s hotline had been immediately flooded with reports after it first opened. The attorney general’s office said the call volume has “since dropped off significantly.”
According to the SPLC’s “Hate Watch,” which collected more than 1,300 bias reports between November 2016 and February 2017, at least 63 bias incidents were reported in Massachusetts.
There’s a difference between bias incidents and hate crimes, Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Boston office, said Monday.
“Not every incident rises to the level of a crime,” he said, noting that the league has seen a “steady uptick” in the number of incidents since November. “We’re living in a time when people feel a little more emboldened . . . a little more empowered, to share their views.”
However, Trestan said, the league has also seen the way people have come together in the wake of events like Charlottesville.
Mentioning the vigils and counterprotests taking place since Saturday, Trestan called those gatherings “much more powerful” than anything with a “message of hate.”
Trestan also said community leaders must call out and disavow hate groups.
“Every time you don’t call out bigots or white supremacists when they’re essentially in your face, you give them an opportunity to really spread their message more,” Trestan said. “Everyone from the president on down should call these bigots out.”
According to Trestan, the majority of hate crimes and hate incidents are not committed by organized groups.
“It only takes one person that wakes up in the morning” and wants to harm others, he said.