The State of Hate in America

In the wake of the horrendous racist terrorist attack on Charleston's historic Emanuel AME church that left nine innocent African-American churchgoers and leaders dead at the hands of a 21-year-old white supremacist, many questions have arisen about hate crime and extremism in the United States. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions on the topic.

How many hate crimes are there in the United States?

We don't know for sure. There are two ways that the government collects crime data in the United States and with respect to hate crime the two measures diverge widely. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collects data on crimes reported to police, but participation and accuracy varies significantly by jurisdiction. In 2013, the latest available year, the FBI enumerated 5,933 hate crime incidents and five hate crime homicides in the United States through the National Incident Based Reporting System. This number represents a significant decline in the number of hate crimes over the last 15 years.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, however, relying on lengthy household surveys of thousands of residents, instead of official crime reports, estimates a far higher number of annual hate crimes in the United States: 293,800 in 2012, a record. The range from 2004-2012 from these surveys is between 223,000 and 293,800.

Year Number
2004. 281,670
2005. 223,060
2006. 230,490
2007. 263,440
2008. 266,640
2009. 284,620
2010. 273,100
2011. 218,010
2012. 293,790

A just-released study concluded that the FBI data represents a significant undercount:
"When error rates were extrapolated, National Incident-Based Reporting System Group A hate crimes were undercounted by 67%."

The data is limited by uneven reporting among the states, particularly in various southern states that have large African American populations, as black people represent the single largest block of victims. Mississippi, with the largest percentage of African Americans of any state and three million residents, only reported four hate crimes last year, while Alabama reported only six. Georgia, the eighth most populous state with ten million residents and one the nation's largest percentage of African Americans, only reported 57 incidents, while neighboring South Carolina, with a far smaller population of 4.8 million, reported 51. While 15,016 agencies participated in the FBI program, only 1,826 actually submitted incident reports.

How many hate crimes are there directed against African-Americans?

Of the 5,928 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2013, 2,871 were committed on the basis of race, with 1,856 or 31.3% of the all hate crimes being directed against African-Americans. African-Americans constitute 13.2% of the United States population. Houses of worship were targeted in 3.5% of all hate crimes or 206 incidents.

Is the South Carolina Church Massacre a Hate Crime or Terrorism?

Both. A hate crime is an offense where a target is selected, in whole or significant part, because of the actual or perceived characteristic of another, such as race. Terrorism involves the use of force or threat to advance a social or political agenda. Reported statements by the defendant would make the church massacre both a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. Authorities as a practical matter invoke different standards with regard to how investigations proceed, generally looking for wider conspiracies in cases of suspected domestic terrorism.

The FBI's working definition of terrorism is "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." Thus a massacre at a historic African-American church with multiple casualties would immediately prompt the Bureau to classify it for investigative purposes as terroristic, although as a practical matter, they also look to see if there is a wider conspiracy, such as the involvement of a hate group to determine which track an investigation subsequently takes.

Federal statutes have a similar definition, 22 U.S. Code, Section 2656f(d) calls terrorism an act of "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."

South Carolina is one of five states without a hate crime law, although such a law would not affect the sentence for the Charleston killer since the murder of multiple victims is a capital offense there.

Who may prosecute the church shooting defendant?

Both. South Carolina and the federal government may prosecute. South Carolina authorities have him in custody and have charged him with nine counts of murder and one count of weapon possession during the commission of a violent crime. It has been the general practice of the United States Department of Justice to intervene in civil rights cases where state prosecutions have failed or have not been pursued. As a constitutional matter both state and federal authorities may prosecute the same defendant, but that is uncommon. In a Mississippi racial homicide case, however, the Justice Department prosecuted defendants after they were sentenced following state trials.

In either a state or federal death penalty case, there is a trial within a trial. The first trial is a standard criminal proceeding where the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant with premeditation unlawfully killed the victims. In a federal prosecution additional elements such as discriminatory victim selection or the interference with religious practice must be proven as well, depending on which statute is used. The law presumes defendants to be sane and able to formulate criminal intent, unless the defense establishes the defendant was legally insane. Insanity standards vary by jurisdiction but generally require a showing of an inability to know right from wrong and the consequences of one's actions.

After a conviction in the "guilt" phase, the penalty phase of a capital murder case commences. There prosecutors present aggravating factors and the defense mitigating factors, that the jury weighs in their deliberations as to whether to apply capital punishment. The findings for death must be unanimous.

How many hate homicides are there in the United States?

Homicides classified as hate crimes (FBI data)
1999 17 (9 racially, 2 religiously, 3 sexual orientation, 3 ethnically motivated)
2000 19 (10 racially, 1 religiously, 2 sexual orientation, 6 ethnically motivated)
2001 10 (4 racially, 1 sexual orientation, 5 ethically motivated)
2002 13 (4 racially, 3 religious, 4 sexual orientation, 2 ethnically motivated)
2003 14 (5 racially, 6 sexual orientation, 2 ethnically, 1 antidisability motivated)
2004 5 (3 racially, 1 religiously, 1 sexual orientation motivated)
2005 6 (3 racially, 3 ethnically motivated)
2006 3 (3 racially motivated)
2007 9 (5 sexual orientation, 2 racially, 2 ethnicity motivated)
2008 7 (5 sexual orientation, 1 racially, 1 ethnically motivated)
2009 8 (6 racially, 1 sexual orientation, 1 ethnically motivated)
2010 7 (1 racially, 3 religiously, 1 ethnically, 2 sexual orientation motivated)
2011 4 (1 racially, 3 sexual orientation)
2012 10 (1 racially, 8 religiously, 1 sexual orientation)
2013 5 (2 racially, 2 sexual orientation, 1 ethnically motivated)
Total 137

How many murders are there in the United States involving guns?
Of the 12,253 murders in the United States in 2013, almost 8,453 were committed with firearms, with handguns accounting for 5782 of those deaths.

How consistent are the defendant's reported statements and use of symbols with those found in the white supremacist world?

They are very consistent. His alleged desire to start a "race war" is glorified in the folklore of the movement in novels like 1978's The Turner Diaries and hate rock groups like RAHOWA (Racial Holy War). His use of segregationist flags used by the Confederacy, South Africa, and Rhodesia reflects the common practice of domestic white supremacists appropriating foreign or historic symbols. Lastly, his alleged statement about blacks taking over the nation and raping white women are plastered throughout the racist world, and indeed was a theme for the 1915 D.W. Griffith film Birth of a Nation which helped launch the most successful era in Ku Klux Klan history. Many of the nation's most well known hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations and the National Alliance are in decline or barely functioning as operational membership entities.

How many states have hate crime laws?

Forty-five states had hate crime laws; with 44 covering race, 32 covering sexual orientation, 32 covering disability, 28 covering gender, and 12 covering age. South Carolina does not.

What determines whether something is a hate crime?

For prosecution purposes applicable state hate crime law guides what acts constitute a hate crime and which groups are covered. South Carolina has no hate crime law, but participates in the FBI reporting program. However, the FBI has a definition that is used for crime reporting purposes and operates independent of state law. While the FBI definition is uniform across the country, participation in their reporting program is not.

The FBI defines a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias" against group characteristics. The FBI further states:

Due to the difficulty of ascertaining the offender's subjective motivation, bias is to be reported only if investigation reveals sufficient objective facts to lead a reasonable and prudent person to conclude that the offender's actions were motivated, in whole or in part, by bias.

1. The offender and the victim were of a different race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, and/or gender identity. For example, the victim was African American and the offender was white.
2. Bias-related oral comments, written statements, or gestures were made by the offender which indicates the offender's bias. For example, the offender shouted a racial epithet at the victim.
3. Bias-related drawings, markings, symbols, or graffiti were left at the crime scene. For example, a swastika was painted on the door of a synagogue, mosque, or LGBT Center.
4. Certain objects, items, or things which indicate bias were used. For example, the offenders wore white sheets with hoods covering their faces or a burning cross was left in front of the victim's residence.
5. The victim is a member of a specific group which is overwhelmingly outnumbered by other residents in the neighborhood where the victim lives and the incident took place.
8. A substantial portion of the community where the crime occurred perceived that the incident was motivated by bias.

Are hate crime laws constitutional?

Yes. The Supreme Court's unanimous landmark decision a year later in Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993) upheld the constitutionality of the more widely used and broadly applicable penalty enhancement model for hate crime. Penalty enhancement laws increase the punishment for an underlying crime when an additional prohibited element is present, such as the use of a weapon or offender recidivism. Previously, in Barclay v. Florida (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court found a racial motive a permissible factor to consider in applying the death penalty in a murder case.

What role does mental distress play in symbolic or mass violence attacks?

Over the last several decades there has been a chain of mentally disturbed violent figures of diverse backgrounds that targeted victims who doubled as institutional symbols. These include anti-Muslim Norway killer Andres Brevick, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, Neo-Nazi Jewish school shooter Bufford Furrow, Little Rock Army recruitment center shooter Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremmer, Capitol Hill killer Eugene Weston, Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza, Jewish Federation killer Naveed Haq, Tuscon killer Jared Loughner, and Reagan shooter John Hinckley. The psychologically dangerous "extremist" is one of three main categories of extremists. Research suggests that "the incidence of mental illness among lone wolves may be higher than among people involved in group forms of terrorism" according to Mark Pitcavage.

What is lone wolf terrorism?

There is debate about whether lone wolves are those acting exclusively alone, or are those who have contact with other extremists, but still act autonomously. The white supremacist world has long encouraged lone wolf violence in journal's like former Klan Leader Louis Beam's The Seditionist and the White Aryan Resistance newspaper. It is also encouraged by groups like al Qaeda and ISIS in their Inspire and Dabiq magazines. A just published study by Mark Pitcavage in American Behavioral Scientist found that lone wolf extremists had the following ideological leanings:

White Supremacy 48%
Anti-Abortion 14%
Anti-government/tax/sovereign citizen 20%
Left Wing/Anarchist 9%
Domestic Muslim Extremist 6%

Who commits acts of hate crime and extremism?

Northeastern University scholars Jack Levin and Jack McDevitt found three main types of hate offenders. The thrill offender who is out for excitement and peer validation operating with shallow prejudices is the most common, but less so now than previously. The second most common type of offender is the defensive/reactive offender who is protecting turf or honor. The least common type is the hard-core, hate-monger known as the mission offender. The mission offender appears far more common in the narrow sliver of hate homicides, constituting 30-40% of those instances.

For those whose violence involves extremism and symbolic targets there are three main types:

The Ideologically Motivated (Religious, Political or Hybrid)
The Psychologically Dangerous (Sociopath or Cognitively Impaired)
Personal Benefit or Revenge