How Online Hate And Incendiary Language Spills Into Communities

Aug 13, 2019

Hate rhetoric online has been linked to several recent incidents of mass violence in the United States and internationally. But even when this kind of speech doesn't lead to physical harm, it is damanging to the targeted group and the wider community. We look at how hateful language has impacted people over time, and what our legal system says. 

GUESTS:

  • Celia Rabinowitz- Co-Interim Director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, and also Dean of the Mason Library.
  • Paul Vincent - Co-interim Director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, and a professor emeritis at Keene.
  • Elizabeth Lahey - Director and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights  Unit at the N.H. Department of Justice. 

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio. I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Hate and violence has always been with us. But now social media and online forums are increasingly effective tools for spreading hate when white supremacists and other extremists find peers and where acts of mass violence are broadcast. And even when this hate doesn't lead to violence. The rhetoric has an impact on communities, and the threats alone can create lasting, damaging anxiety for targeted groups. Meanwhile, our legal system offers limited protection from language meant to frighten and intimidate. Today, in exchange, looking back and forward at the impact of hate speech and let's hear from you.

Laura Knoy:
Both of our guests are interim co directors of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. They are Celia Rabinowitz. She's also dean of the Mason Library and say it's really nice to meet you. Thank you for being here.

Celia Rabinowitz:
You're welcome.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us, Paul Vincent. He's a professor emeritus at the college. And Paul, thank you also for coming in. I appreciate it.

Paul Vincent:
You're welcome, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
Well, later on, I want to let everybody know. We'll be hearing from the head of the civil rights unit at the New Hampshire attorney general's office a little bit later in our program. Celia, as someone who studies these hate movements, how they morph into violence. How do you process what's been happening in our country?

Celia Rabinowitz:
I think that's a really good question, because I think we are seeing this as something new. And historically, we know that that's really not the case. We can look all the way back to the end of the eighteen hundreds when there were certainly similar kinds of sentiments about Chinese laborers. The very first exclusion act was put in place to try to prevent immigration from China. Those Chinese laborers who were here were seen as potential replacements for people who were already living here. And that's language that we're hearing now, right? The language of invasion and replacement.

Celia Rabinowitz:
So we have a long history of allowing ourselves to be frightened of people who are coming to the United States and using fairly incendiary language to talk about them. I think one of the differences is and that makes things perhaps even similar to what was happening at the end of the 19th century is that the use of that language is becoming much more mainstream. It's not nearly as underground as people people think. There's a great article in The New York Times just this just yesterday and Sunday that looked at the use of some of this language in fairly popular in mainstream media. So if we're thinking under the radar on the dark web, sort of lone wolves, that's not necessarily the case. We can find the language pretty easily.

Laura Knoy:
It's interesting what you say about Chinese immigrants. And you mentioned people were frightened about being replaced. Does hate come from fear?

Celia Rabinowitz:
So, yeah, I think certainly a lot of hate comes from fear and the unknown, particularly individuals who are who find themselves sort of drawn in it. The folks who may be trying to foment hate can often do that by by making people afraid. I'm not always sure that the people who are leading movements like this are working out of fear, but certainly many of the people who follow those leaders are.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think, Paul, bringing up the history of immigration in our country?

Paul Vincent:
I think it's terribly important. If you go back to the 1850 fifties, you have something called the Know Nothing party movement, who is called the American Party. And it its focus was on Catholics and obviously Catholics that are coming into the country were not your typical Anglo Saxons, but we were we were developing a blend in our population that was very troubling to people. Now, obviously, I think I think your question about fear and its relationship to hate is terribly important. I think what what you then can do is you can get a demagogue who has the understanding that I can tap into that fear and I can I can mobilize it. And I think that's what happened, obviously, just with a minority. And you had the civil war break out fairly quickly after that. But then the issue of the Chinese is interesting, too, because those people were largely invited to our country because we were doing the Cross Count Continental Railway in the 1868, 1870 sent by by the early 1884.

Paul Vincent:
We didn't need these people. We saw them as as a very exotic, unusual element in our society. And so the I think the exclusion law. Chinese exclusion law, the first law that was was passed in our country to exclude people is that was the first sort of real limit on immigrate.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, for that pretty much anybody could come. Right.

Paul Vincent:
No, you're absolutely right. They could come. It doesn't mean that they were welcomed with open arms. That that that sense of the other as the others being somebody you needed. You need to be fearful of has always been with us. Always been with us. Even Ben Franklin said nasty things about the Germans, right? Yeah. Yeah. You can go all the way back and find that with him. Yeah. But I think it's important for us to recognize that humanity is not a whole lot different in 2019 than it was 200 years ago. In terms of other people and engine, if you go back to to Europe before there were roads and trains, people feared the people in the next village, in the next town, in Europe now.

Laura Knoy:
So hate stems from in many instances, a real fear of other of other of other.

Paul Vincent:
And the irony of that is very often the other is somebody that you've never met, because very often if you're familiar with the other, you don't fear them.

Laura Knoy:
So it's interesting to hear both of you talk about how this has always been with us, but Celia, to you first, please. So what does this look and sound like today? Because there are differences.

Celia Rabinowitz:
So I think today what we see is some normalization of some of the ideas and fears and language. So it's easier for people to to access. I mean, one really big difference, of course, is that we the way we communicate, right.

Celia Rabinowitz:
So we have television, which is really almost these days of sort of traditional medium and print journalism. And then, of course, the explosion of what's online. And the issue about online media is how accessible it is and how accessible it is and easy it is to find. And that includes places where we might not think like YouTube, which is becoming a real focus of concern for many, many people. Because if you use YouTube fairly regularly, you know, when you pull it up or all kinds of things that you see that are recommended to you. And most of us don't stop to think about how those algorithms work.

Celia Rabinowitz:
But a lot of us are increasingly concerned about how search engines, all the usual search engines and YouTube make, create and use those algorithms. And, you know, if you have a few minutes, it's very easy to click from one place to another and actually be led around. And that seems to be happening more and more that without a lot of effort, folks are being sort of drawn into places where they are seeing and hearing things, particularly on YouTube and on other media that are likely to have an impact on them. And that's a big difference from Paul's example of the 17th or 18th century when communicating in a town and even between towns was a lot more labor intensive.

Laura Knoy:
So what kind of a difference does that make, Celia, the ease with which you can find this stuff?

Celia Rabinowitz:
The speed with which things spread. Certainly there were events that happened this weekend and not connected to hate. But, you know, the death of EPSTEIN in New York, it did not take very long for any variety of conspiracy theories to pop up and start spreading extremely quickly without a whole lot of control. So there's a speed issue and an outreach issue. This reaches a lot of people in a lot of places. And this is what I think is important when we talk about hate and organization, because there are ways for folks all over the world to be connected with one another. They may still be sitting, you know, in their house by themselves, but they are connected extremely quickly with people who think just like them all over the world. And in many cases, in ways which keep them anonymous.

Laura Knoy:
What's the power of that connection? Paul?

Paul Vincent:
My my sense of that connection is, is if you go back 30 years, even 20 years, somebody who lived in your community, let's say it's in Keene, who has a paranoia, who believes in conspiracy theories, could not get reinforcement because you didn't have that potential of the Internet there to reinforce you. So you started to question your own my own passion about this. Maybe I'm wrong now and find anybody you agree with who agree with you now. You can find so many people to agree with you and it just amplifies what your squat you're afraid of. And I think that's terribly important now. Now, I'm not I'm not saying I think the Internet obviously, I'm not as fluent with the Internet as a lot of people. But, you know, to prepare for this program, I've got the Internet and and I had things at my fingertips that I wouldn't have had 20 years ago. And so it's incredibly useful for good reasons, but it also can be useful for bad reasons. And I think understanding that difference and trying to control the negativity that's out there is so, so difficult now. And that wasn't a problem 20 years ago.

Laura Knoy:
And definitely when I ask both of you a little bit later about those things that you just raised using the Internet for good reasons to counter hateful speech that incites violence. And also trying to control it. Good luck trying to control the Internet. But I definitely want invite our listeners to join us. A tough conversation today on The Exchange. We are talking with two scholars from the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. We're looking at the rise in white supremacy and how its hate messaging spread online is spilling into our communities with their historical perspective. We're looking back and forward at how this manifests itself and how our society should respond..

Laura Knoy:
Has the spread of white supremacy, the threats, the violent outbursts associated with it? Has this affected your life?

Celia Rabinowitz:
I think there are a few things to think about related to this one is that it's not only anonymous, but almost impossible to trace. So very often the technology is created in such a way so that it's very difficult to fit to find, to determine where communication is even originating from. I think to some degree it's given the person who lives down the street from you. Right. Who. Who holds who may hold certain types of racist or extreme views. An opportunity to be able to communicate with other people without being identified. And so that's become really important for a lot of people. I think it provides that safety net for people to engage in conversations. I should say when we talk about these technologies like 10 and 4 chan, the interesting thing about them is that they were started really by by people who were advocates of what you might call even radical free speech and what they were known for. Early on were as places where people, for example, exchange child pornography. I conversations about drugs. There was even some legitimate whistleblowing that would go on.

Celia Rabinowitz:
So anonymity can be a good thing sometimes. And quickly, white supremacists and others found homes there because the administrators of these websites take a completely hands off approach. They created them so that people could talk about anything with with impunity. So just like the Internet, it's difficult to say those things are always completely bad. I mean, we know whistleblowing can be very important. And there have been some examples. I think I can't think of one right off the top of my head with that kind of thing has happened these days. Mostly they're known for being places where we get that kind of anonymity. But I want to point out quickly, there are places where this kind of conversation is happening that are easily accessible. I mean, The Daily Stormer, one of the oldest neo-Nazi organizations in the United States, has a Web site that you can find if you use Google. And you do not have to be looking underground to get recruited and indoctrinated. You can very easily find things anyone can just by using Google.

Laura Knoy:
I want to ask both of you a lot more about free speech, but also invite our listeners to join us. And Debbie's calling us in her car. Hi, Debbie. Go ahead.

Laura Knoy:
Welcome.

Caller:
Good morning.

Laura Knoy:
Morning.

Caller:
I think what concerns me most is the fact that people online feel that they can say anything. And I know, especially with Facebook helped by Hungary's anymore, people say anything they want, no matter how rude. And it's because they say things that they would never say. They had to pay some money. So there's not a lot of personal interaction by worrying about kids nowadays because they don't interact with people face to face. And as a result of all of this electronic communication. People have got uncivilized and rude. And I don't think it bodes well for our future.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Debbie, thank you very much for the call. And I'll tell you a story, actually. I remember when we started inviting e-mails to The Exchange. You know, we started off as a call in show. And couple of years in, we started inviting people's e-mails and we said to each other on our team, boy, the stuff people say on e-mail is a lot harsher than what they would say calling in. So it kind of backs up your point, Debbie, what you think, Paul?

Paul Vincent:
What I find very interesting about that is and I think it's so important. I was born in 47. So I've been I've been around the block a few times just after the war. Yeah, yeah. And my my perception has always been that the president was somebody who set an example for me. Set an example for other children, for an adult, whatever. They might be weird. And I suspect I might be crossing a line here in saying this. But to my knowledge, my current president is the first one that has used Twitter in the way that he has. So that Debbie's problem here is, I think, something that we we can we can look at our neighbors, we can look at our community members, we can look at the country at large.

Paul Vincent:
But we also, I think, need to look at who who is setting the example for the community to write and say whatever they want about other individuals. And it comes out of the White House.

Laura Knoy:
Some of these white supremacist motivated acts, Paul, happened before Donald Trump was in office. Oh, I understand that. It's been rising for a long time.

Paul Vincent:
I agree. But right now, I think we've we've crossed a different line, though, in the last couple of years because he's made it okay in a way that I don't think it was something that Celia and I were chatting about before, was that people that were on the fringes were most more noticeably on the fringes. They were skinheads. They might have that maybe by other things about the way they dressed. They were more identifiable. Now, it's less easy to identify these people because of the anonymity that you both mentioned and that Debbie mentions.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Celia.

Celia Rabinowitz:
I just wanted to add to something that that Paul said. I think if we if we go back to what we were talking about right at the beginning of this conversation, concern about demographics, the feeling as if this is a place where we live, meaning mostly white people and has been around a really long time.

Celia Rabinowitz:
So you're right, we're talking about something that looks and feels a bit different, but the roots go back a very long time.

Laura Knoy:
Well, again, exclusion or hatred against Chinese immigrants permits and German immigrants, Catholics earlier in our history were definitely a targeted group, Irish people. And on and on and on. So, Debbie, thank you so much for the call. We'll take more of your calls after a short break. This is The Exchange on NH PR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy today. Two leaders from the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College are here. We're looking at the rise in white supremacy and how its hate messaging online spills into our communities. We're getting their historical perspective on this and their current perspective. We're looking back and forward at how this manifests itself in our lives, how our society should respond. We'd love your thoughts. What do you make of the spread of white supremacist thoughts, the threats, the violent outbursts we've seen associated with it?

Laura Knoy:
Our guests are both interim co directors of the Cohen Center. They are Paul Vincent. He's also professor emeritus and Celia Rabinowitz. She's also dean of the Mason Library. And both of you, let's go right back to our listeners who have thoughts on this. Nancy's calling in from Keene. Hi, Nancy. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Thank you. I just think it's really important for us to set an example on the other side of that. I'm a librarian in a pre-K through sixth building and I say, you're 29 and our mission has been social justice, sustainability and the environment. So books I share around social justice, even for young children. Books like baseball saved a story about putting the Japanese in internment camps during World War Two, Japanese that were born in our country all the way to books about Jackie Robinson with my fifth and sixth graders. So I think it's important for us to be examples on the other side. And there's so many wonderful books out there to give children that other perspective, especially if they're hearing a different message at home.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Nancy, it's good to hear from you. And this actually relates to the work that you do at the Cohen Center and Celia I'll turn to first. You guys have a pretty robust public education piece. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Celia Rabinowitz:
We do. I know you know, Tom White, our educational outreach coordinator on our show a lot. He he spends most of his time out in the region, in the area, working with teachers and elected officials and and others.

Celia Rabinowitz:
One of the things that Paul and I have talked about in this interim year when we work together, is pulling back Tom back on campus a little bit and I'm looking forward. I'd like to arrange perhaps a series of lunchtime conversations for folks, for our own students and faculty and members of the local community to talk about some of these issues. He's really, really good at that. And it is a really core piece of our mission to help people think about what's happening now, what happened historically. Put that in context and think through decisions we need to make every day.

Laura Knoy:
How is that carried out, Celia? Is it teachers doing workshops? Just, you know, with you folks? Is it you and teachers and a classroom full of kids? I mean, how is that done? Because this is really sensitive material and it can get politicized pretty quickly.

Celia Rabinowitz:
I think that's a really good point. I think one of things that we try to do is to come at this from a we've talked about this a lot, that that there's a way to talk about being nonpartisan, which doesn't necessarily imply I'm not committed not promoting a particular way of thinking about and an issue. And so we we think about that all the time, particularly on a college campus, when we want to draw in as many students as we can, when there are there's a lot of conversation about how liberal and conservative and welcoming college campuses are. I think the last caller, Nancy, is a great example of how this happens out and in the community. There are lots of ways this can happen in communities and particularly in schools, including thinking about how we present ideas to kids and young adults who might not hear these kinds of things at home. There are ways to think about how we use books, fiction and nonfiction, how we use what happens in the classroom at the college level. I think a lot more about how we try to engage students in talking with each other about these kinds of difficult issues.

Laura Knoy:
Paul, what's effective? I love her call talking about, you know, working with the youngest kids through literature.

Paul Vincent:
There's there are there are a variety of things that are effective. And I think what Tom is doing is so important. New Hampshire is one of the states. And frankly, I don't think this is a problem that did not have a mandate for teaching the Holocaust. And so it's one of one of the most important pieces that our center has stood on is then there is a need there is a need to get out there and make sure that people know how to translate what comes out of the Holocaust into lessons that can be used in the classroom. And he's done wonders at that as as head Chuck Hildebrandt when he started the center back in 83 and moved on through, I think his major role was being a resource person for the state of New Hampshire, going into classrooms, having dialogue with with students, but also getting student and getting the teachers to know how they were supposed to approach topic.

Paul Vincent:
I ran into a wonderful testimonial letter from Jane Alexander and Kelly Budd dealing with what Chuck did for them. For them to to have a unit teaching the Holocaust in their high school. One of the things that is troubling and it relates to both of these questions to some degree is we've lost the gray area where and I say this again, as somebody who first supported Nelson Rockefeller in nineteen sixty eight and then voted for Hubert Humphrey in the election, wanted a Republican one a Democrat, where there could be there could be conversation between them. There could be reasonable amount of compromise between the two. Parties, that's the gray area between the two parties. The two parties have gone to an extreme and the ability to have that kind of conversation is gone. Now, that's something that we can recognize here sitting in this room. But it's something we need to recognize that every child that comes to the classroom is coming with with the issues that are on two different sides in the way that they weren't when we were children, we were able more readily to see the gray when you were growing up.

Laura Knoy:
The gray is more acceptable.

Paul Vincent:
Yes.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Celia.

Celia Rabinowitz:
I think what's interesting is when we talk with students, sometimes what they are, particularly college students, what they are really hungry for is it's modeling. I have a very vivid memory of a student once saying to a group of us adults, we need you to help us learn to have better arguments. They're looking to us to help model ways of communicating and talking and behaving that allow us to talk about these very difficult subjects that are not a debate.

Celia Rabinowitz:
All right. We're not looking for one side to win over the other, but that allow us to work to understand the other side and use what we learn. That is not to say, but to allow ideas to go unchallenged. I think that's where we end up a misunderstanding. One of that somehow having a conversation where we're sharing ideas means we can't challenge one another. That's not really true. The best conversations are one we really don't learn unless we're challenged. If somebody doesn't say to me, are you sure about that? Because this is what I think. I will never have the opportunity to change my mind.

Laura Knoy:
Paul?

Paul Vincent:
Yeah. So we've got a wonderful example of something that models what we're talking about here. I've gone to two concerts that Apple held this summer, and I'm sure you're familiar with Apple Hill, Laura. They bring people from all over the world when they have students. There was a there was a trio of Brahms clarinet trio that was performed last week. And the the cellist was from Baltimore. The pianist was from San Diego. The clarinetist who was black was from Israel. And the way that they combine people that are Christian, Jewish and Muslim, that worked together and understand that the differences that they may think they have can be overcome by virtue of the cultural impact they can have by working together is such a wonderful model. It's small, but to me, Apple Hill is an example of what we need to do.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go back to our listeners and Michael sends us an e-mail. He says, How do we guard against defining down what is hate speech to any speech with which we disagree politically? Michael says, for example, most of what I believe your guests would call the mainstreaming of hate speech seems to be opposition to illegal immigration as distinct from legal immigration. I've also heard people label criticism of Israeli policy called anti-Semitic. And I've heard the speaker of the House called racist. Michael, really important point. What do you think? I really want to dive into this with you, so I appreciate him raising it.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, Celia. I I think this is always a very complex question because there are legal definitions of what hate speech is. I think.

Celia Rabinowitz:
I think this is absolutely spot on, right, that we have a tendency to call something hate speech that may or may not meet the actual legal definition, which is why I actually sort of tend to not use that. Try not to use that term so much. We're really talking about incendiary types of ideas and the language around them.

Laura Knoy:
So give us an example, because Michael seems to be saying someone can be opposed to illegal immigration without being, you know, a hateful racist who wants to kill people. So. Well, how do you how do you figure out what that line is?

Celia Rabinowitz:
Well, I think we can look at, though, some of the language that's being used. So one could be opposed to illegal immigration without describing illegal immigrants as invading this country. Right. As if that verb invade invasion. The whole issue about this replacement theory. Right. That's really gaining ground, that it's thinking about the reasons why people I mean, the use of the word invasion and talking about people of color coming here to replace white people becomes less about the act of immigration and more about them motivation for that. It targets the those folks and why they're coming here, when in point of fact, we we know a lot about why people want to come here. We don't know without asking those individual people why they're coming here. And so I think that's where the where the lines are.

Celia Rabinowitz:
When we try to look at people monolithically, we accept the explanations that people will give us as to why people want to come here. Those are the explanations that we feel or we feel threatened by. And then we begin to feel afraid. And then exactly what happens is exactly what we talked about a few minutes ago. Right. Which is that fear can very easily morph into hatred. So I think this is a really important question. We've lost the ability to talk about some of these issues. The Israeli-Palestinian issue is one that's very important to me. I have family who live in Israel. I have connections to the Holocaust. My own my own politics on this are very clear to me.

Celia Rabinowitz:
And they probably align more with with Michael's ideas about this, I think we have to have ways to talk about criticizing Israeli politics or any politics without accusing people of being anti-Semitic. It's also very to accuse, isn't it? Well, this is so quick to do it. Yeah, it's just not these things are not easy. And we want to label. It's just much easier for us to attach a label to someone and that tells us if we like them or not. And it's really not that easy.

Laura Knoy:
So to Michael's point, you know, it's okay to say I oppose people coming here without the right documentation. It's not okay to say they're invaders. They want to replace white people. That's where it starts to get hateful and possibly even violent.

Celia Rabinowitz:
I think so. And then the next logical step is to think about the policies that the government puts in place to interact with those folks. And then we've really moved into an area where there's unofficial behavior and language coming from the leadership in the country that that may be sending a message.

Laura Knoy:
Do you wanna jump in on that Paul, too?

Paul Vincent:
just one point that I'd like to add? I think we also need to look at what it is they're coming from. Are they coming here for for employment opportunities or are they fleeing a situation in their country in which their life or the life of their families is endangered? And that's something obviously we can go back and look through history. And certainly the the the prohibitions that came into place in that the quota system had a terrific impact on both legal and illegal immigration. In the 1930s and 40s. But we need to we need to look at what it is these people are fleeing before we make a decision. In my mind, between legal and illegal immigration, like just say one other thing, though, and this is going to broaden this discussion a little bit. Last year, I taught in Poland as a visiting professor at Jagiellonian University, and I was invited in to come over for the spring semester. I got there right at the beginning of February. Their semesters are different from ours and the semester went till the end of June. When I when I flew over there, I'd already purchased my tickets, was ready to go.

Paul Vincent:
I was going to be teaching the Holocaust and the Polish government had passed the law, making it a legal criminally illegal. They changed that later on. To say that or to bring into disrepute either the Polish people or the Polish state with respect to being complicit in the Holocaust. Now, that is not something that's a central point of what I talk about in the classroom. But if I'm going to teach the Holocaust, I need to know that if I get a question from a student dealing with this, I can talk about it. Now, that situation is something that if that separates what the United States is today from which Poland is today, we could not sit in here and have a conversation about this in Poland without the potential of getting ourselves in trouble. I was told I could talk about it. I could answer that kind of question in the classroom, that the classroom, basically the ivory tower. But if I went out on the marketplace and talked about it, I would be in trouble because that would probably be considered hate speech from the perspective of the Polish government.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, I hope Michael still listening. That's really interesting. Go ahead, Paul.

Paul Vincent:
So it's it's this this can vary from society to society, from political culture to political culture, what you can say and what you can't. If you if you're in Turkey today and you bring up the Armenian genocide, you are you are violating the law and you're going to get yourself into trouble. So it's it's it's a difficult issue. And societal change differences, I think, are terribly important to understand.

Laura Knoy:
Michael, thank you so much for the e-mail. You can e-mail us as well, And Paul, I've seen you you know, I've heard you speak about this issue in Poland. It's is an incredible story that you just told. And in that context, you've said Poland is not alone in moving away from liberal democracy, which involves the free and open, open sharing of ideas. So what about the free and open sharing of ideas related to white supremacy? Is that part of democracy as well?

Paul Vincent:
Well, it must be.

Paul Vincent:
You have you have the marketplace of ideas which are absolutely essential to what I would refer to as liberal democracy in a liberal democracy. Certainly you have a majority that rules, but you have minority rights. And minority rights involve freedom of the press involved, involve courts and parliaments that are not controlled by the government in power, involve colleges and universities. Colleges and universities are by their very nature anti majority or Rotarian. And I don't necessarily mean in a political sense, but they are places where you always say. However, this can also be approached from this direction, whatever the topic might be. And once you put a limit on that, you have put a limit on the liberal exchange of ideas that I think are absolutely essential for any open society.

Paul Vincent:
We are not at that position yet in our country. In Hungary, You are at that position, in Poland, you are approaching that position in Russia. You're definitely at that where certain points of view are just you got cannot use them. And so even though they are all it's interestingly enough, they all call themselves democracies, because the people that are leading these countries were elected into office. What they have done is they have squashed any moderate minority opinion. And once that happens, you are in real trouble.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Lots more to talk about after a short break. And we will hear from the head of the civil rights unit at the New Hampshire Department of Justice and the attorney general's office.

She'll be with us and we'll take more of your comments and questions. So keep them coming in.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy tomorrow on our show. It's our earlier conversation with New Hampshire author and naturalist Sy Montgomery. Join us for that Wednesday morning at 9:00. Back to our conversation now about white supremacy, hate speech and how it's spilling over into our communities, both physical and online. We're talking with the interim co-director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. And I want to bring another voice into our conversation. With us now on the line is Elizabeth Lahey, director and assistant attorney general for the civil rights unit at the New Hampshire Department of Justice. And Elizabeth, welcome back to The Exchange. Always good to have you.

Elizabeth Lahey:
Yeah, thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
Just remind us what was behind the creation of your office about two years ago, Elizabeth? Because I think some listeners may not know New Hampshire even has a civil rights office.

Elizabeth Lahey:
Sure. So our office was created or the civil rights unit was created in December of 2017 after there were a series of incidents that happened in New Hampshire with a bias or hate element that it became clear that we needed dedicated resources and a specific person to be the point person to coordinate responses and investigation with local law enforcement as well as government. And so that's that's what we've taken on, as well as expanded into some other anti-discrimination work as well.

Laura Knoy:
So responses and investigations after the fact, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Lahey:
Correct. Correct.

Laura Knoy:
Is there anything you folks are doing regarding people who may be planning ill intent? We've heard a lot about, you know, people being radicalized online 4chan, 8chan, YouTube, you name it. Are you guys keeping track of that?

Elizabeth Lahey:
So we work with the FBI a lot in in making sure that any potential threats that manifest in New Hampshire we are aware of. But the function that you're describing, the the ongoing monitoring of online forums is something that the FBI does and that we work in conjunction with them as necessary when a potential threat manifests in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
So the FBI job is to keep track of this. If they see a potential threat emerging in New Hampshire, they contact you. Is that how it works?

Elizabeth Lahey:
Yes. And vice versa. So if we have incidents where members of the public or in various religious communities have reported to us something online that either relates to them or their church or synagogue or mosque, and then we work with the FBI to make sure that they're aware of of the online content.

Elizabeth Lahey:
And then we do in certain instances do online monitoring from that point forward. But I'm sort of a large scale, proactive basis. It's a function of the FBI and we work in concert with them.

Laura Knoy:
And I'm guessing you can't tell us too much about what the FBI does, but monitoring alone these days feels like four targeted communities, perhaps not enough. What else does law enforcement, either the state level or the federal level, do to protect people who are feeling quite threatened?

Elizabeth Lahey:
Sure. So we have worked with local religious communities in the wake of the shooting in Pittsburgh, for example. We met with members of the New Hampshire Jewish community, along with other members of law enforcement and other state homeland security to help them develop risk assessments and protocols for in the event that something happened in New Hampshire. So we are also are available to sort of speak proactively and help with this, provide state resources to deal with risk assessment. We also done some community support work. So we are certainly a resource for communities that feel targeted. And any of The AG's office is not, you know, situated to to provide a certain resource. We work with other state agencies and federal agencies to make sure that the communities get the resources that they need.

Laura Knoy:
Let's say somebody has been spreading hate online, Elizabeth, or on social media and a colleague or a family member, you know, notices it and is concerned. What should that person do?

Elizabeth Lahey:
So if there is an immediate safety risk or there is a, you know, a worry that there is an immediate safety risk. Our directive is always to call law enforcement. Law enforcement is trained and able to deal with immediate safety risks. Also, we ask that they contact our office and and report it and then we can make the assessment about whether the conductor speech at issue rises to the level of a hate crime or civil rights violation or it's something that in that instance we continue to monitor to see where it goes.

Laura Knoy:
Excuse me, the head of the FBI testified, Bill. For Congress earlier this year, Elizabeth saying, quote, The bureau does not investigate any group merely for its beliefs, but when those beliefs produce violence, he said we're all over it. But if you're the victim of a mass shooting, it's too late for you. You don't benefit from that investigation. I just wonder what other tools law enforcement has.

Elizabeth Lahey:
In what? I'm sorry. In terms of.

Laura Knoy:
When terms of protecting people who have been targeted by and I'm talking about, you know, not just Jews or Muslims or, you know, African-Americans now Latinos. There was somebody who was collecting weapons and planning mass violence against politicians and journalists. So I'm just wondering, what other tools does law enforcement have to protect people before the fact?

Elizabeth Lahey:
Sure. And so then New Hampshire, the emergency services Department of Homeland Security, which is within the Department of Safety, offers a lot of resources and services related to risk assessments. And they're all free of charge. So the members of that department will meet with members of communities, could go into their space and assess, you know, these are potential risks. Date these how you.

Elizabeth Lahey:
This is how you could potentially mitigate these risks and help them create plans, put plans in place so that in the event something happens or if they feel targeted, that there is that there is a plan and a response in place to counteract that.

Laura Knoy:
And as you said, Elizabeth, your office was created about two years ago. What have you seen in those two years? What changes?

Elizabeth Lahey:
In terms I mean, we have received a fair number of complete the most in terms of sort of hate speech and a speech. We get a fair number of complaints from campuses ranging from elementary schools through colleges in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, wow. All the way down to the little kid level.

Elizabeth Lahey:
Yes. Yep. And you know that the speech varies with age level. But but that's a big concern and a big focus that we have.

Elizabeth Lahey:
And that's why, you know, we were a proponent of the new anti-discrimination legislation for schools because it felt like there was a gap in protection there for a very vulnerable subsection of the population. And so with that protection in place, I think it provides another mechanism for people to address conduct that, you know, maybe is not criminal, but might create a hostile environment within schools and allow us to help work with districts to, you know, provide support, but then also help them identify and bring in resources to deal with these issues as they begin to manifest in schools and prevent them from escalating into something more physical that might be a crime.

Laura Knoy:
Is there anything else you want to leave us with, Elizabeth? Either things that you're working on, things that we'd like to see happen here in New Hampshire, or just your observations leading this office for the past two years?

Elizabeth Lahey:
Sure. I will leave with one project that we have been working on that we are in the process of finalizing is creating a hate crime protocol for law enforcement. And I guess I should say a hate crime and civil rights violation protocol, that the hope is that it will standardize the identification and investigation process between local law enforcement, the county attorney's and the ages office. And so with the goal toward certainly better addressing and responding to these incidents. But then also. Having a more a better trained eye to identifying racism and anti-Semitism or homophobia. Before it escalates into into some conduct that violates the law so that we as law enforcement and government can have a more active role in helping to respond and support communities.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, Elizabeth, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Elizabeth Lahey:
Thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
That's Elizabeth Lahey, director and assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Unit at New Hampshire's Department of Justice. And Celia Rabinowitz and Paul Vincent, lots of listeners who want to join our conversation. So let's go right back to them. Steve writes from Dover. Quick question, is white supremacy on the rise or is it just that it's become a bigger part of the national discussion due to heightened media coverage? Is there any data to support a rise in white supremacy? Good question, Steve. And Celia, do you know?

Celia Rabinowitz:
It's a great question. I think it's one of those things that's difficult to assess by measuring because we don't sort of knock on people's doors and say, you know, I'm I'm running a survey. You know, are you a white supremacist? I think it's probably. We certainly know that there has been an increase on we're reading this all the time. There's been an increase in the number of bias incidents. Things that that rise to the level of being illegal or things that are reported. I'm certainly that's exactly what we were just talking about in terms of what's happening in the state. The question is whether that means there are more people or whether more or whether more people are feeling emboldened to do these kinds of things. One of the real changes that's happened in terms of the white supremacy movement is, is the way in which it has become mainstreamed in Europe. They often describe this as boots to suits, meaning the skinheads, you know, with the very visible tattoos are exchanging that look for a three piece suit. And that attracts different kinds of people. Right. People who would not want to associate with or feel themselves connected to people who look extreme, feel much more comfortable around other folks who who look a lot like them and dress like them and talk like them. And so I think it's a very difficult question to answer. And I certainly don't have any data in front of me to try to provide that that answer.

Laura Knoy:
Well, boots to suits, I had not heard that before. So according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which does track these groups in February of 2019, the SPLC says, quote, The number of hate groups operating across America rose to a record high 1020. This is the fourth straight year of hate group growth, a 30 percent increase coinciding with the presidency of Donald Trump following three consecutive years of decline near the end of the Obama administration. Those are numbers from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Celia Rabinowitz:
They also say. And they say there are 10 groups, at least in New Hampshire, probably with the most per capita in New England.

Laura Knoy:
And I just want to put out there and we should explore this in a later show. Some people do quibble with the groups that the SPLC see tracks saying that not everybody who they label a supremacist should really be in that pile. We're not going to get into that right now. But I do appreciate the e-mails, Stephen, and the data. And let's go back to our callers. Katrina is calling from both. Hi, Katrina. You're on the air. Welcome. Go ahead.

Caller:
Hi. Thanks so much for doing this program. I really appreciate it. I wanted to mention a couple of things first. I'm president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. And a few months ago, we put out a report on just this topic online incitement to violence, born out of hatred, largely white supremacist hatred. The report is called The Hater Next Door. And so if anybody wants to to read it, they're welcome to go to our Web site. But one of the things I think we need to do is to help individuals to feel somewhat empowered to act in this very difficult space, if you will. You may recall that some years ago when in the aftermath of 9/11, there was a constant campaign out there to tell people, if you see something, say something. Be alert. Look around. Pay attention to sort of your environment. And if you see something that doesn't seem right, you know, you should say something, report it. Well, in the world of online hate, I think we need a comparable sort of encouragement to people that if you read something, report something, which is sort of what you're your guest from the attorney general's office was saying. Very often these haters next door, these individuals who go on to do just appalling acts of violence, like the synagogue shooting, what we saw in El Paso, very often they have left a trail, not just the bread crumbs, but of, you know, full fledged bread slices online.

Caller:
And while it is true and I think your listeners need to be reminded of this, that in our country, with our very robust free speech protections, hate speech is constitutionally protected. What is not constitutionally protected are actual incitement to violence, fighting words, words that reasonably can be understood as encouraging people to take actual steps of violence towards their fellow citizens. And so this idea of read something, report something is critical. And the other thing I would like to say is that there is no way we will be able, as you suggest, law to do something to stop these horrible incidents in advance without greater effort, greater cooperation, greater vigilance on the part of the social media companies. You know, governments can not restrict free speech, but private businesses can. A lot of people don't realize that they have the right to kick people off of their sites. They have the right to sort of monitor and police what kind of speech they will permit. And while none of us want to see those kinds of efforts go overboard in a in a fashion that undermines that free marketplace of ideas. Clearly, social media companies have not stepped up to their responsibility to do a better job identifying what legitimately is dangerous incitement. What is is language and posting online that seems calculated to lead to a very bad end. And they have the right as private companies.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. On Facebook and Twitter, definitely have teams built to police their sites successfully or not. As you know, Katrina 4 chan and 8 chan are Anonymous and especially with 8 chan there's a team of moderators, but it's anonymous. The users are more computer savvy. Content is distributed more successfully. So I hear you on the mainstream social media sites, but then there's a whole sort of I'm off.

Laura Knoy:
I'm not sure if It's correct a called the Dark Web or not, but there's a whole other set of tools that are available. I'm really glad she called to tell us about their report. And also the work of the Lantos Foundation is also along the lines of what you folks are doing. So thank you very much. Katrina. Hard to believe. Paul in Syria, we only have about a minute or so left. And I didn't just want to ask you, Paul, first of all, what thoughts you have. What hope you might offer for combating some of this hateful violence in the future.

Paul Vincent:
It's interesting the way the numbers going up from the Southern Poverty Law Center, because I saw that same statistic. And I think there's. It's not hope. It's it's a it's a strange way of putting it.

Paul Vincent:
But I think people are feeling a loud, empowered. Empowered is something that Katrina used. Unfortunately, the other side feels empowered now to say what they want. There was something good about political correctness and I think it's gone out the door. Unfortunately, people can say whatever they want. Now, that's not a positive way to end this.

Laura Knoy:
We talked earlier about free speech and, you know, hateful speech is protected until it incites violence.

Paul Vincent:
The Cohen Center and and the and the Lantos Foundation need to. Work together.

Laura Knoy:
There you go. Yes. Celia.

My last word is in many ways having this kind of speech more accessible where we can hear it allows us to to talk about it and counter it and perhaps reach folks before they become sort of really connected to it. So in if there's a positive at all, it's that when we can see it out in the open, we can develop tools to deal with it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's been great to talk to both of you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I can't give. Thank you. Paul Vincent and Celia Rabinowitz, both our interim co directors of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. And you're listening to The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

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