When things start going wrong, it’s time for us to start retaliating. It’s time for us to get active
By Holly Zachariah / Columbus Dispatch / February 10, 2017
Amanda Lee says she is building an army and Ohio plays a key role in her plans.
As the national imperial commander for the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Lee predicted last week that 2017 will bring a resurgence of her group’s activity — public rallies, widespread pamphlet distribution, greater recruitment efforts — and a push in several targeted states, including Ohio.
“We have people all over Ohio already. There is a large membership of Loyal White Knights there,” she said in a phone interview during a dinner break from her job in North Carolina. “When things start going wrong, it’s time for us to start retaliating. It’s time for us to get active.”
Lee said she couldn’t provide membership numbers despite the fact that members of her branch of the KKK pay monthly dues — $10 a person or $15 a couple — and that it calls itself the largest KKK faction in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks what it calls hate and extremist groups and combats discrimination through education and litigation, has acknowledged the Loyal White Knights has a significant Ohio presence.
The Alabama-based law center said in its most-recent report that 34 such hate groups operate in Ohio, dividing them into categories, including KKK, black separatist, white nationalist, racist/skinhead, neo-Nazi and anti-LGBT. The center maps where the groups are based, including Ohio organizations such as the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement in Cleveland, the Nation of Islam in Columbus and the Supreme White Alliance in Cincinnati.
Rick Zwayer, the director of Ohio Homeland Security, said it falls to every federal, state and local law enforcement officer to monitor extremist groups and to keep an eye out for those who might want to do harm to others.
An increasing amount of organizing happens online, however, including for the world’s most-visited white supremacist website, the Daily Stormer, which is run by central Ohio native Andrew Anglin. Anglin’s specific whereabouts are unknown these days but, at least until recently, donations to his website were directed to a Worthington business address associated with his father.
Where the groups originate or are based matters less as the power of their online activity expands, said Michael S. Waltman, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Waltman teaches a class on hate speech and has written books on the subject.
“The internet offers a great degree of anonymity, and it has made organizing and recruiting a lot easier for groups,” Waltman said. “It fosters an even greater apocalyptic rhetoric.”
The law center also tracks what it calls anti-government or “patriot” groups, such as organized militias or sovereign-citizen organizations. There are 52 of the latter in Ohio, at last report, with the bulk of them being county chapters of the Ohio Minutemen Militia. But the center also recently used social media, news stories and self-reporting to track incidents of actual violence or intimidation.
In the report that looked at “bias-related incidents” in roughly a month after the November election of President Donald Trump, the center found 1,094 such incidents across the country, with the majority being anti-immigrant. They ranged from threatening voice mails left at churches to racial slurs tossed at children.
Some of the reports eventually proved false, and the center cautions on its website that many remain only anecdotal. The center reported 29 incidents in Ohio in that time, which ranked the state 15th in the nation.
Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services last week released its 2015 hate-crime statistics, which are compiled annually as part of an FBI report.
Nationwide, 1,742 law enforcement agencies reported 5,850 hate-crime incidents, with most single-bias incidents (57 percent) involving race/ethnicity/ancestry. In Ohio, 109 law-enforcement agencies reported a total of 416 hate-crime incidents, which put the state’s rate of 4.3 incidents per 100,000 population higher than the national average.
Reflecting the national trend, the majority of Ohio’s instances were related to race/ethnicity/ancestry, with another 14 percent related to sexual orientation, 9 percent related to religion and 2 percent related to disabilities.
Central Ohio pastor David Daubenmire has found his Pass the Salt Ministries on the law center’s hate-group list several times. He said the label is unfair. America, he said, is experiencing a moral reawakening, and his ministry — based in Hebron in Licking County — landed on the list largely because it actively demonstrates and preaches against gay rights.
“Who gets to determine labels?” asked Daubenmire, who became a central figure in the right-vs.-left morality debate of the 1990s when, as coach of London High School’s football team in Madison County, he led his players in prayer at games, practices and meetings. The American Civil Liberties Union went to court to get him to stop. Eventually, Daubenmire resigned under pressure, but the debate boosted his reputation within the Christ-centered schools movement.
“Somebody in Montgomery, Alabama, who I’ve never met, made the determination that they didn’t like what I was saying?” Daubenmire said of the center. “Hate is in the eye of the beholder. They label it ‘hate’ and then it becomes censorship. We should be allowed to preach the Gospel.”
But the labels do matter, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in California. The center, a Jewish human-rights organization that confronts anti-Semitism and bigotry and online terrorism, puts out a regular report that specifically looks at how social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others police hate speech. It tracked such online activity long before most anyone else did.
“We have to try and debase the online marketing ability of the bigots,” Cooper said.
How much online activity translates to real acts of violence is unclear, he said, but the internet certainly has allowed haters to cocoon themselves in anonymity and more easily find validation for their beliefs.
“The people who used to be consigned to the gutters of the night to sneak out and put fliers on your car, now they have access to the mainstream online,” Cooper said. “When you go online and see people there who think like you, that’s empowerment. You don’t have to ask for permission anymore.”
And the internet has also allowed rhetoric that once seemed extremist to appear less offensive, Cooper said.
“You incubate a message that once looked insane — but now they can class it up and make it look legitimate,” he said.
Professor Waltman, Cooper and others say that the “lone wolf” who is fed by online communication and perhaps fostered in individual or community gatherings should be feared the most. And whether it be online words or a meeting of an organization in some back room on a Saturday night, hate follows a pattern, he said.
First, those interested identify as being part of an “in group.”
“They will be told they are descended of kings,” Waltman said. Then, an “out group” is created. “They are like animals, equated to monsters,” he said.
Next, the out group is painted as a threat. Then it becomes pleasurable to destroy it and take away its power.
Lee, of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, said her group has an active telephone hotline. Its voicemail message finishes with: “If it ain’t white, it ain’t right.” She said the organization feels as if 2017 is critical, particularly in countering the Black Lives Matter movement. She said the KKK is simply misunderstood.
“We don’t hate anybody,” Lee said. “God says you can’t get into heaven with hate in your heart.”
Waltman said there is no easy answer to combating such groups. But he thinks there is hope as long as people remain vigilant against hate or hateful acts.
“It is important for us, in our own communities, to monitor hate,” Waltman said. “If you can make the soil of our communities clean and a place where hate cannot grow, we will win.”