Hate crime and the toxic ideology spread by groups that traffic in the language of racial, sexual or religious superiority are again drawing attention in the wake of Wednesday's deadly attack at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
But who are these groups and what are they trying to achieve? Are they carrying out violence or simply trying to instigate it? And who is most at risk of being victimized?
Here, by the numbers, is a snapshot of hate crime in America.
How many ‘hate groups’ are there?
There were 784 active hate groups in the United States in 2014, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The number of such groups surged in response to President Barack Obama’s election and the economic downturn — growing from 888 in 2008 to 1,007 in 2012 — before falling to 939 a year later and then the lowest level since 2005, according to Mark Potok, who tracks extremist groups for the SPLC.
"Those numbers may be somewhat deceiving," Potok wrote in the SPLC's "The Year in Hate and Extremism" report. "More than half of the decline in hate groups was of Ku Klux Klan chapters, and many of those have apparently gone underground, ending public communications, rather than disbanding."
What is a hate crime?
As defined by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, hate crimes are “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.”
For reporting purposes, it does not matter whether or not the perpetrators of the crime were ever charged with a hate crime.
How often do hate crimes occur?
The FBI is charged under the Hate Crime Statistics Act with compiling statistics on hate crimes. In its most recent report, for 2013, it counted 5,928 incidents resulting in 7,242 victims. That was a decline from 2012, in which the FBI tallied 6,573 incidents.
Separately, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has been collecting data on crimes motivated by hate since 2003 for its National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). That survey, which includes data on crimes believed by the victims to have been motivated by hate but not reported to police, showed a spike in hate crimes from 2011 to 2012.
What trends do the data show?
According to the FBI’s data for 2013, most hate crime is motivated by race, accounting for 48.5 percent of all such reports.
Here are some other trends from the data from 1995 through 2012:
Overall incidence of hate crimes
The number of hate crimes has fallen by about one-fourth over the period. In 1995, the FBI counted 7,947 incidents. The count remained generally steady, with ups and downs, until the late 2000s, when it dipped into the 6,000s. These changes could be attributable, in part, to variations in the agencies reporting to the FBI from year to year.
Average incidents per year
Over the entire period, the average number of incidents reported per year was 7,573, with an average of 9,455 victims per year.
Types of incidents
Race has generally fallen as a percentage of hate crimes (from about 60 percent to the high 40s), while sexual orientation has generally risen in share (from the low teens to about 20 percent).
Over the entire period, these were the average number of incidents reported per year, by type: race, 3,979; religion, 1,382; sexual orientation, 1,210; ethnicity/national origin, 951; disability, 52; multiple-bias, 5.
Race and ethnicity
The number of racial/ethnic incidents reported has fallen steadily, from about 6,000/year to about 3,500.
Hate crimes against blacks remain far more numerous than hate crimes against the far larger population of whites.
According to the FBI statistics, 66.4 percent of the 3,407 reported single-bias hate crimes that were racially motivated in 2013 targeted blacks.
Looking at racial and ethnic categories (and counting Hispanic and other national origins as separate categories, as the FBI does):
The racial categories have remained quite constant in share of incidents, aside from a sharp drop in anti-Asian incidents. For the latest year, the share of racial/ethnic incidents is: anti-black, 52 percent; anti-white, 19 percent; anti-Hispanic, 11 percent; anti-other ethnicity, 8 percent; anti-multiple races, 3 percent; anti-Asian, 3 percent; anti-American Indian, 3 percent.
Unlike the decline in racial hate crimes, religious hate crimes have remained steady, falling only slightly.
Hate crimes against Jews remain far more numerous that hate crimes against the larger population of Christians. But the raw number of hate crimes against Jews has fallen, with part of that burden falling on Muslims.
What are hate groups?
The SPLC maintains a list of hate groups that “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
The organization compiles its list using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.
The SPLC also compiles a second list of “Patriot” groups that “define themselves as opposed to the ‘New World Order,’ engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines.” But some experts say it isn’t always possible to draw a clear line between the two movements.
Do hate groups commit violence or simply try to instigate it?
There are no data on hate crimes committed by members of active hate groups, but many experts say that “lone wolf” sympathizers influenced by the group’s messages pose a bigger threat.
Which states have the most hate groups?
The SPLC lists these states as having the highest number of active hate groups in 2014:
- California (57)
- Florida (50)
- New York (44)
- New Jersey (40)
- Pennsylvania (38)
- Texas (36)
- Tennessee (29)
- Georgia (28)
- Ohio (27)
South Carolina had 19 active hate groups on the list including the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Original Knight Riders Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens and neo-Nazi National Socialist Freedom Movement, National Socialist Movement and Creativity Alliance.
The SPLC has a map listing the groups active in each state.
What hate ideologies attract the most followers?
The SPLC lists these ideologies as spawning the highest number of active hate groups:
- KKK (72)
- Neo-Nazi (142)
- White Nationalist (115)
- Racist Skinhead (119)
- Christian Identity (21)
- Neo-Confederate (37)
- Black Separatist (113)
- General Hate (165)
What are some of the most notorious hate crimes in recent years?
- Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of the Wyoming, was beaten, tortured and left to die in October 1998 by two men who tied him to a fence, where he wasn’t found until the next day. Shepard died five days later from severe head injuries. His assailants received life in prison without parole.
- Naveed Afzal Haq shot six women at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in July 2006, killing one of them. He was sentenced to life without parole in 2009, plus 120 years.
- Members of a gang known as the “Latin King Goonies” beat and robbed three gay men in the Bronx in New York in October of 2010. The group’s alleged leader pleaded guilty to gang assault and is serving 14 years in prison.
- Wade Michael Page, who had ties to white supremacist organizations, shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and wounded four others in August 2012. He then committed suicide. Attorney General Eric Holder called it “an act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime.”
- In April 2014, three people were fatally shot at two Jewish centers in Kansas.
Hate hot lines
If you suspect someone you know is involved in a hate crime or presents a threat of committing such an offense, call these numbers:
Hate Crime National Hotline (USA): 206-350-HATE (4283).
Hate Crimes Hotline at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: 1-800-552-6843.