In my current project to help the Southern Poverty Law Center clean up their “Hate Map,” I realized that I don’t have a working definition of what makes a group a “hate group.” It’s a fairly nebulous definition. So I went to their main site to find out what their definition is.
That’s when I found out that that nebulosity isn’t a bug — it’s a feature.
Here’s the closest to a definition I could find:
All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
And here are the broad categories that they break that down further:
Anti-Gay, Anti-Immigrant, Black Separatist, Christian Identity, Holocaust Denial, Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Confederate, Neo-Nazi, Racist Music, Racist Skinhead, Radical Traditional Catholicism, and White Nationalist.
Let’s take those one at a time.
Anti-Gay: The majority of those groups aren’t anti-gay per se, but opposing gay marriage and further expansion of gay rights. I think that they’re largely wrong, but I would not call all of them “hate groups.”
Anti-Immigrant: Here the SPLC is engaging in the same sleight of hand that a lot of liberals do. The majority of the groups they list aren’t anti-immigrant, but anti-illegal immigrant. And being in this country is hardly an “immutable characteristic.” We as a society have already determined that these people are unwelcome; we already have laws on the books for it. What they — OK, we — want is the laws enforced. There’s nothing hateful about that.
Black Separatist. No problems there.
Christian Identity. Again, no arguments there.
Holocaust Denial. Yup, screw them, too.
Ku Klux Klan. Hey, we’re on a roll here! Screw the Kluckers!
Neo-Confederate: OK, to some degree. But most of ’em are romanticizing an era that had some good things, but a lot of ugly, too. If you tied these folks down and tickled ’em until they confessed (not that I’m recommending it), they’d admit that the South is a lot better off for having lost the Civil War. But there is a certain Southern Charm in the old days, and I’m willing to give a pass to most of those who speak with pride of their Southern Heritage.
The other assholes, though, who want to bring back the WHOLE South, with its inherent racism and segregation and oppression, if not outright slavery — screw them, too. If THAT South rises again, the North might have to do the same.
Neo-Nazi: I hate Nazis. Especially Illinois Nazis, but I don’t have any fondness or respect or tolerance for any of ’em.
Racist Music: I don’t quite see the need to list them as a separate group. They tend to be affiliated with one or more other groups already listed. Why not lump them in with the groups their music supports?
Racist Skinhead: I’m developing a special hatred for these jerks, as my latest coif is in line with their distinctive look, and it could be taken as a sign of support. So screw them, too.
Radical Traditional Catholicism: Originally, I was going to give these folks a pass — they seemed a cult more than anything else, and I believe that people can believe whatever they want. But then I did a little digging, and found out that these nuts are most often hard-core Jew-haters, and get along just fine with the Jewish Conspiracy proponents like the Neo-Nazis and the Klan and their ilk. So, screw them, too.
White Nationalist: Finally, screw them, too.
So, for the most part, I agree with the categories they SPLC has listed. But I’d like to add two categories that I’d consider in the spirit of the above:
Latino Separatist: These are the “no-borders,” “reconquista” crowd that wants to “reclaim the American Southwest” from us “gringos.”
Radical Islam: I think we all know what that includes. But the problem is, they’ve learned how to game the system. They’re constantly starting up and shutting down groups, so it’s hard to identify one group as a “hate group.” They further complicate things by giving the groups utterly innocuous, if not positive, names that give them a veneer of respectability — for a textbook example, see the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which funneled millions to terrorists. But for starters, take a good look at all the groups affiliated, tied to, or spun off from the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, Hamas — the terrorist group that is the duly elected government of the Gaza Strip — is the official affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian Territories.
I find myself wondering just why these two groups were omitted. One possible explanation could be that these groups tend to cross over into criminal and terrorist activities a lot more than the others, and so become a matter for law enforcement.
Another is that they are considered “protected classes,” and thus aren’t quite subject to the same standards others are. But the SPLC does list Black Separatists, so that kind of puts a dent in that theory.
Regardless, it’s clear that the SPLC’s criteria leave a lot to be desired. It’s almost as if they wanted to keep their criteria as loose and vague as possible, so they could list as many groups as they could and increase the perceived danger. And that could be quite beneficial for their fundraising efforts.
Finally, I have to wonder what would happen if one of these groups were to threaten to sue the SPLC for defamation…
Update: Links to the SPLC’s definition of each category added.