Hate might seem like something that divides, but for some people, it can bring them together.
In Pennsylvania and across the U.S., more people are being united in organizations identified as hate groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks these groups in the U.S., currently listing 917 on their website. Take a look at the map and you’ll see 40 in the Keystone State, fifth place behind California (79), Florida (63), Texas (55) and New York (47).
According to the SPLC, the number of hate groups across the country has been on the rise since 2015, increasing from 892 that year to 917 in 2016. The number includes a 197 percent rise in anti-Muslim groups
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The list of hate groups in Pennsylvania includes seven different Ku Klux Klan chapters, but that’s not all. There are four neo-Nazi groups, six racist skinhead organizations and six more that identify as white nationalist.
The American Family Association in Franklin focuses on anti-LGBT issues. There are anti-Muslim groups like Altra Firearms in Jackson Center and the Shoebat Foundation in Newtown.
Poker Face in Allentown is listed as making “hate music.” The Vatican Assassins are under “general hate,” while Pennsylvania has has two “radical traditional Catholicism groups.”
And in keeping with President Donald Trump’s comments about problems on “many sides” after the clash between white nationalists and protestors in Charlottesville, not all of the hate groups are hating on minorities. SPLC’s single largest category of Pennsylvanian hate groups are the eight it identifies as “black separatists,” like the Nation of Islam.
“... The Pennsylvania State Police monitors all potential threats in order to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania. This includes hate groups. In addition to monitoring these groups, educational outreach is conducted to educate the public regarding hate/bias crimes. The department analyzes each incident of hate/bias crimes to identify possible trends and takes action to investigate and speak with members of the affected community,” said PSP communications director Ryan Tarkowski.
Cynthia Young is the head of the African-American studies department at Penn State. She has been studying the growth of right-wing activism.
“The number of these groups had been falling. They weren’t very active,” she said.
Then Barack Obama was elected president. The Tea Party emerged in reaction.
“It all led to a kind of extremist rhetoric,” she said. “There were economic issues at play, too. One thing that motivated it was resentment, a fear of a changing country. There was a growing feeling of irrelevance.”
That’s the same kind of scenario that brought out a prior rash of hate groups.
Bruce Teeple, of Aaronsburg, has studied the history of the Klan in Pennsylvania for more than 25 years.
“The only counties that did not have active Klaverns in Pennsylvania back in the 1920s were Union and Snyder. Centre County had seven,” Teeple said.
But central Pennsylvania didn’t have a large black population. What was the target back then?
“It was more about Catholics and Jews,” Teeple said.
Young said that while Pennsylvania has a number of groups, the internet makes it possible for anyone to be a member of a hate group and makes it hard to know how big the movement has become.
“In the age of social media, where these people are doing their recruiting is Twitter,” she said. “Are people just reading websites? Are they meeting people? That’s what makes it tricky. How do you measure that?”
One measure might be a rise in Confederate flags on display or Nazi memorabilia. Some say the items are just about history, but others say it is much more.
“The gravitating toward these things is just slippery,” Young said. “People gravitate toward certain types of memorabilia or symbols without having any real understanding of what that means. ... A lot of this is not brand new.”