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“The threat is very real,” said Linfield’s guest lecturer about the rise of hate groups and extremism in the United States. Mark Potok spent the day touring classes and concluded by delivering his lecture to a full auditorium Feb. 27.
Potok discussed what he refers to as a major backlash to the quickly changing racial demographics of this country and others. There has been an 800 percent growth in hate groups since the reelection of President Obama.
“The world is changing, and countries are becoming less white. Globalism has meant large immigration flows into America and Europe,” Potok said. “These are responses to the social changes happening.”
From the extremist perspective, many problems are blamed on the government. Patriot groups and citizen militias, those whose main enemy is the federal government, first began in the mid ‘90s. In the fall of 2008, those numbers came rushing back. According to Potok, there were 149 patriot groups after Obama was elected for the first time in 2008, and by 2010, the number rose to 824. In 2011, there were 1,274 total patriot groups in the nation.
“Many hate groups and patriot groups think the federal government is involved in a conspiracy to impose martial law, take away weapons and force the country into a socialist government,” Potok said.
He said that according to a national poll, 56 percent of Americans saw the government as an imminent threat.
While some extremist groups blame the government, others blame minority groups for the diminishment of “White America.” It’s always the same story, Potok said. With every wave of civil rights or social change, extremists or supremacists have what he calls a “those people” mentality. Anti-black, anti-gay and anti-immigrant attitudes are among the highest in these groups.
“Some hate groups think the Jews are the problem, that they’re here to suck the welfare out of our system, to steal our women and destroy our culture,” Potok said.
The groups aren’t unified, although, there are a few major groups. Potok explained that violent acts by these organizations are rare, as the individuals who act out usually act out alone, such as Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.
“These [extreme individuals] didn’t think the groups they saw were doing enough,” Potok said.
Potok defined right-wing extremists as groups and individuals who are outside what most of us think as the normal realm of political discourse.
“It’s quite beyond the American conservative. It’s getting into wild conspiracy theories and threatened hatred toward minority groups,” Potok said.
Potok was a journalist until 1997, when he went to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC is an organization that names hate groups throughout the U.S. in its quarterly publication, “The Intelligence Report.” The SPLC started in 1971 in Alabama as a civil rights law firm focused mainly on The KKK and white supremacists.
With a staff of investigative reporters, the center makes the lists strictly based on groups’ ideologies, not criminal activity, Potok emphasized. They look for organizations that malign entire groups of people who are minorities.
“[‘The Intelligence Report’] is a new type of investigative journalism… that bridges the space between traditional journalism and pure public relations,” said Brad Thompson, associate professor of mass communication, when introducing Potok and his work.
The SPLC and Potok have received a large amount of criticism for “casually labeling organizations as hate groups,” Potok said. Some argue that The SPLC shuts down and stifles free speech.
“We are not opposed to free speech… We have never suggested and will never suggest that speech be suppressed,” Potok said.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Mass Communication and the Office of Multicultural Programs.
Kelsey Sutton/Managing Editor
Kelsey Sutton can be reached at
An Oregon Public Broadcasting show made a visit to Linfield College to have a conversation with Mark Potok on Feb. 27. “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller interviewed the guest about hate crimes and other extremism locally and in the U.S.
Among the large number of hate groups in the nation, 13 exist in Oregon. According to OPB, there have been many recent hate crimes in Oregon, including two based on sexuality in Portland and Gresham and two racism cases in Monmouth and Springfield.
The “Think Out Loud” staff learned of Potok’s visit, and they wanted to interview him in person.
“We heard that Mark Potok was coming here, and we were invited by the college to do a show here. We thought it’d be a great opportunity,” Miller said.
The main question the show addressed with Potok was where the line is drawn between political differences and hate.
Randy Blazak, who runs the Coalition Against Hate Crimes in Portland, joined Potok on the show to provide a local perspective to the issue of hate.
Miller asked members of the audience to share their experiences of the real local effects of hate, and he encouraged everyone to ask questions as the producers walked around the room with microphones.
Miller invited the audience to use Twitter during the show to engage in the conversation.
“We’re trying to do more outreach to colleges. We want to be out in the community talking to people, and this is the perfect kind of place,” said Sarah Jane Rothenfluch, “Think Out Loud’s” executive producer. “We can meet students and get different perspectives, and also we can let you know how the show works. So [coming to colleges] is a win-win situation.”
Rothenfluch said she would like to know what college students are thinking about and learning in class.
“What are the big issues on college campuses that are important to college kids, and how can we tap into that and get into those sorts of conversations?” Rothenfluch commented.
Students, faculty and a group of students from McMinnville High School filled the audience for an educational experience.
“Bringing OPB was well worth the investment by the [mass communication] department,” junior Blanca Esquivel said. “It brought life to the campus knowing something so important was being spoken about.”
Kelsey Sutton/Managing editor
Kelsey Sutton can be reached at email@example.com.