Just this month a Hispanic man was beaten in Boulder by two teens who thought he was an immigrant. The incident was a violent indicator that the number of hate crimes and extremist groups is holding steady in the state — assertions that FBI data and a new report from a civil rights watchdog group confirm.
Although a new report says the number of hate groups operating in the United States is up 48 percent since 2000, it found one group fewer in Colorado. Does that mean hate is down in the state? Not quite.
Colorado has been notorious for extremist activities since at least the 1920s when a U.S. senator, the governor and the mayor of Denver all swore allegiance to the Ku Klux Klan. And according to the Anti-Defamation League, the state remains a place where racist ideologies can find supporters.
“Whether it’s the Christian Identity movement, skinheads and white supremacists, the anti-gay movement or the anti-immigrant movement, there has been a presence of these groups in the state for many decades, and today is no exception,” said Bruce DeBoskey, regional director for the ADL Mountain States.
But statistics from the FBI seem to indicate the number of hate crimes in Colorado is under control.
With 220 state law enforcement agencies reporting, the FBI recorded a total of 138 hate crimes in Colorado in 2006, up from 125 in 2005, when only 205 agencies reported. From 2005 to 2006, the number of hate crimes motivated by a racial bias held steady at 59.
The number of reported crimes motivated by an ethnicity bias, which includes crimes against Latinos and immigrants, actually dropped 30 percent from 27 incidents in 2005 to 19 in 2006.
But the number of hate crimes motivated by a religious bias nearly doubled in the state, jumping from 22 incidents in 2005 to 42 in 2006. FBI statistics do not indicate which specific religions or ethnicities are targeted in local jurisdictions. Nationwide the majority of these crimes are carried out against Jewish and Hispanic victims.
Earlier this month two white teen-agers were arrested for beating a Hispanic man outside a convenience store in Boulder. According to police, the teen-agers yelled racial slurs at their victim, whom they assumed was an immigrant.
A report titled “The Year in Hate,” released earlier this month by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, cites a 35-percent jump nationwide in the number of hate crimes against Latinos between 2003 and 2006. The report also finds the number of U.S. hate groups up about 48 percent since 2000. Of 888 hate groups active in 2007, 12 were based in Colorado, down from 13 in 2006.
“It’s clear to us that this growth has almost been entirely driven by the very ugly immigration debate,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the law center, which has gained recognition through its many legal victories against white supremacists.
“The list has nothing to do with criminality or violence or any estimate we make about the potential for violence,” Potok said. “The listings are based on ideology. If a group – in the statements, writings or speeches of its leaders – says a whole group of people is somehow less than another, it’s a hate group.”
To identify hate groups, Potok says the law center relies on many sources. Staffers clip newspapers and monitor the Internet, shortwave radio and broadcast news coverage. But they also receive information from police and send out reporters to investigate.
Not everyone agrees with the law center’s conclusions. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which found itself newly added to the 2007 list of hate groups, condemns the report as a deliberately misleading distortion of the facts meant to boost fund raising and stifle the immigration debate.
“We have a point of view on immigration shared by millions of Americans of every race, creed, color and political affiliation. So taking FAIR and mixing it in with genuinely despicable groups and implying there is a relationship with neo-Nazis and skinheads is very offensive,” said Bob Dane, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, which claims 250,000 members nationwide.
“This is an insult to people who are the victims of truly dangerous groups. This is a political retaliation because they are losing the immigration argument,” Dane said.
FAIR, whose leaders have testified before Congress and are regularly cited in mainstream media, advocates for less immigration overall. The law center’s decision to designate FAIR a hate group was based on the racist ideology of several people associated with the organization -either as donors, members, leaders or advisers.
The Family Research Institute, a Colorado Springs-based anti-gay group, is also on the list, but Chairman Paul Cameron – the author of a prolific number of studies linking homosexuality with violence and disease – shrugs it off.
“Our philosophic stance is one they find uncongenial, and I guess I would say the same thing about them,” Cameron said of the law center.
“We are a scientific and educational organization, and we publish in scientific, peer-reviewed journals,” Cameron said. “We are interested in the betterment of humankind so we publish all the data we can about what happens to children when they are given to homosexuals as adoptees or put into a classroom with a teacher that engages in homosexuality or what happens with the blood bank if homosexuals are allowed to donate. Like anyone else in science, we try to measure things and count them.”
Potok scoffs at Cameron’s assertion that his work has scientific merit, pointing out that the American Psychological Association has shunned Cameron, and his work has been repeatedly discredited by sexuality researchers. But Potok adds that although Cameron’s research is dubious, that doesn’t stop conservative, anti-gay politicians, church leaders and activists from citing Cameron’s work as justification for discriminatory policies and practices.
The Internet has given Cameron and other extremists a convenient vehicle to use in promoting their messages. In an age of increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and instant, cheap communication via the Web, DeBoskey cautions that extremist groups will continue to grow in numbers and influence.
“There are communities in Colorado that are concerned about their safety, and with good reason because there is an ongoing presence of people who are willing to act out their hatred,” he said.
“The most important thing that we can do to fight these groups is to shine the light on them,” DeBoskey said. “It’s important to let good citizens know that in our midst there are people working to undermine our democracy. We all have an obligation to be vigilant and to try and make our state a place where hate is rejected wherever it rears its head.”