Just days after the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue attack, the Assembly Select Committee on the State of Hate hosted a discussion that sought to examine the current state of white nationalism.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, chaired the discussion that occurred on the campus of CSU San Bernardino and featured a panel discussion comprised of representatives from the school’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept. and a former leader of a white nationalist group.
The select committee was formed a few years ago to explore how various forms of hate can be addressed across the state, Bloom said during the meeting, adding, “Unfortunately, white supremacists in the United States have experienced a resurgence in recent years.”
Whether it was 2017’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville or April’s synagogue shooting in San Diego, white supremacists have shown that they believe almost any action is justified if it will help to save the white race, Bloom said. “These are hard words to speak but sometimes it’s hard to speak in accurate terms about some of the things that are going on with our country.”
Bloom said murders and terror plots represent “only the tip of the iceberg” in terms of the potential damage that prejudice can cause because oftentimes the groups engage in a lot of non-ideological crimes, “including crimes of violence against women and drug-related crimes.”
So while these groups represent a very small portion of the population, Bloom said, “they are not insignificant in their influence and are becoming increasingly sophisticated and organized.”
The four panelists — Brian Levin from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, Rick Eaton of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Deputy Sheriff Greg Jones and Jeff Schoop, “who led the largest neo-nazi organization in the United States up until eight months ago” — agreed with Bloom’s sentiments when they were given an opportunity to speak about their different experiences.
“White supremacists (and) far-right-motivated homicides have killed at least 26 people so far this year,” Levin said, “so more people were killed in the United States this year to date by a handful of white supremacists than the sum of all extremists killings in 218.”
Levin added the fatalities per incident are trending up along with the number of killings as semi-automatic rifles continue to become their weapon of choice.
Levin said extreme views are usually relayed online through various platforms, which is a topic Eaton dove further into during his time at the podium.
Eaton showed a presentation that illustrated how groups manipulate historical logos like the swastika or Ben Franklin’s famous cartoon about unity into their own versions, which are then posted online to recruit others to the cause.
This is mainly spurred by their collective fear of white genocide, according to Eaton.
“Sadly we have witnessed incident after incident of murder citing variations of this philosophy,” including the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in July and another 4 that have all occurred in the past 12 months, Eaton said, before Deputy Greg Jones began to discuss how mass shootings are clear examples of hate crimes but the day-to-day crimes that law enforcement officers typically see aren’t as clear cut.
Some hate incidents, such as name-calling, insults and distributing hate material on public property, are protected by first-amendment speech, according to Jones, who also said some people are deterred from reporting a hate crime because they don’t want to face further consequences.
“So what do we do in law enforcement? We start with education. We start with going out and talking with individuals,” Jones said, but it’s also important that you say something when you see something.
“It’s not just a slogan. Become part of the change,” Jones added. “(Because) something has to be done so nobody should ever feel like a victim.”
Schoep began his time at the microphone offering an apology for the role his organization played in the hateful events that took place in San Bernardino.
“It’s not easy to come up here after 27 years in a movement to admit that you were wrong,” Schoep said, declaring he spoke many times in the National Socialist Movement but the committee meeting was probably the hardest speaking engagement he’s partaken in.
“A lot of people feel that getting involved in this is about hate but that’s not always the case. People can come from all walks of life and get involved in this… Anybody could be recruited,” Schoep said, describing how nationalists find “commonalities in people and we build on that.”
For example, Schoep said, if somebody came to the group because they felt their religion was under attack or maybe somebody had a prior negative interaction with another person, the group would utilize literature that was tailored to foster further prejudice.
“Because once they’re in, they’re in,” Schoep said, listing off his former group’s five podcast, two recently developed video games and other methods of recruitment.
“We recruited through every aspect you could imagine,” Schoep said, but he now hopes to help others leave their hateful past behind.
“I didn’t sty any longer because I couldn’t stand the violence that was coming, the violence that was already happening and the violence that’s to come if we don’t combat this in the correct manner,” he said.
This prospective violence is one of the multiple reasons why Bloom said in May that he wishes to hold a number of hearings over the course of a couple of years around the state on the topic.
“Because this is an issue — I’m sure you know — that is affecting everyone in the state of California,” Bloom said, adding: “It’s important for us to understand what the root causes of hate are, (since) we can’t really grapple with it effectively unless we know where it’s coming from.”