A recent spate of hate-related incidents around the country has raised a troubling question: Is there something about the mood in the US today—perhaps spurred by Americans dying in combat abroad, plus the cultural and political war at home over issues like same-sex marriage, judgeships, and immigration—that is leading in some instances to threats and attacks?
“Public discourse has become meaner and more cruel-spirited in general,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who monitors hate groups and extremist activities in the US.
Recent incidents include cross burnings in North Carolina, threats against gay students on an Oregon campus, disruptions of anti-immigration meetings by those charging border vigilantes with racism, anti-Semitic graffiti in the Queens borough of New York, a whites-only group recruiting in Michigan, white separatists harassing Japanese residents in Las Vegas, and a rise in anti-Muslim activity.
While most hate crimes are directed against minorities, they increasingly involve minorities against one another.
In Los Angeles County, for example, most officially designated racial hate crimes directed against Latinos are charged to blacks, and vice versa.
“Whites don’t have a monopoly on prejudice,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “Different [racial and ethnic] groups now are rubbing elbows as populations grow”—bringing disputes over jobs, schools, and zoning.
Immigration, too, appears to be a major issue influencing relationships among racial and ethnic groups. There have been clashes between volunteer border monitors in the Southwest and those who say such self-styled “vigilantes” encourage anti-immigrant bias.