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Coming face to face with hate

Southern Poverty Law Center representative discusses how modern extremist views take root – and what to do about it.

October 3, 2017

By Cory Phare

Hate crimes are on the uptick across the country. And in the wake of events in Charlottesville, Va., many are coming face to face with extreme ideology.

The Insider recently had a chance to chat with Ryan Lenz, senior investigative writer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, about this new rise of very old phenomena. Lenz will be a featured guest at the upcoming “Where Faith and Violence Coincide” colloquium on Oct. 18.

Thank you for speaking with us. Is what we’re seeing now similar to anything in the past?

It’s not unprecedented, as our country has a long history of extremist ideas entering the mainstream – but we haven’t seen anything like the current rapid rise of these ideologies, facilitated in large part because of political acceptance.

What has contributed to the current climate?

We can’t underestimate the eight years of President Obama giving animus and motion to [extremists] as reaction to the first African-American president. Other elements include demographic changes: It’s predicted that by 2050, whites will be in the minority for the first time – and that terrifies some people. Whether it’s generational reality or peer cohorts, these ideas have fought to come outside of the shadows.

There’s also something to be said for how easy the Internet has made for these ideologies to disseminate. It’s not impossible for someone in Europe to be ideological buddies with someone in Detroit. That’s been critical in driving an echo-chamber effect, too.

Given this, what are organizations like SPLC doing to counteract the rise?

We’re putting pressure on Silicon Valley to recognize how extremists are using platforms as provocations of hate. For instance, Dylann Roof was radicalized in part by the information he sought out via a Google search.

Additionally, we’re doing what we’ve always done – documenting and reporting who are the primary movers in this area. It’s important to know how far, where and why, as hate is deeply seated in the United States and it’s not a matter of if things will turn violent, but when.

What are some suggestions you can give to deal with the rise of hate?

Learn. Before we rush into the street to react to things, find out the history of resistance – where it’s been and where it is now. This isn’t a new movement; it’s old, with deep and complicated tenets that reach into the fabric of American culture.

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