Each year, the Southern Poverty Law Center, of which I am the president, compiles and publishes a census of domestic hate groups.
In recent weeks, we’ve received a number of requests to name Black Lives Matter a hate group, particularly in the wake of the murders of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Numerous conservative commentators have joined the chorus. There is even a Change.org petition calling for the hate group label.
In our view, these critics fundamentally misunderstand the nature of hate groups and the BLM movement.
Generally speaking, hate groups are, by our definition, those that vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity. Federal law takes a similar approach.
While it’s no surprise, given our country’s history, that most domestic hate groups hold white supremacist views, there are a number of black organizations on our hate group list as well.
We have heard nothing remotely comparable to the NBPP’s bigotry from the founders and most prominent leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and nothing at all to suggest that the bulk of the demonstrators hold supremacist or black separatist views. Thousands of white people across America–indeed, people of all races–have marched in solidarity with African Americans during BLM marches, as is clear from the group’s website. The movement’s leaders also have condemned violence.
There’s no doubt that some protesters who claim the mantle of Black Lives Matter have said offensive things, like the chant “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” that was heard at one rally. But before we condemn the entire movement for the words of a few, we should ask ourselves whether we would also condemn the entire Republican Party for the racist words of its presumptive nominee–or for the racist rhetoric of many other politicians in the party over the course of years.