OPB interviews hate crime expert
The one-hour program featured an interview with Mark Potok, who was spending the day on campus sharing his expertise as an investigative journalist and hate groups expert with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Randy Blazak, a Portland State University sociology professor who studies hate groups, was also featured.
Members of McMinnville High School’s “Freedom Writers” club and Linfield College students and staff made up the majority of the audience, along with a sprinkling of people from the general community.
Audience members became silent at 11:55 a.m., when Think Out Loud host Dave Miller gave them a rundown of what would be happening. First, he would do a live teaser heard by listeners throughout the OPB area; then, while the news was on, he would have time to talk a bit.
He encouraged the audience to participate in the show.
“That’s the big reason we do shows away from the studio, to get questions and opinions,” he said. “Don’t be shy!”
Only two audience members asked questions during the broadcast. For the most part, they listened to Potok and the PSU professor.
Potok described two different kinds of organizations the SPLC monitors: traditional hate groups, such as the Nazi and Ku Klux Klan offshoots, that target people because of race, religion or other characteristics; and the extreme radical right groups that regard the federal government as the main enemy.
“There’s no easy way to define these groups, but it’s beyond conservative thinking,” he said. “It’s wild conspiracy theories and hatreds.”
While there are many variations on the radical right theme, he said, the groups generally share the belief that the government is conspiring to declare martial law, confiscate all personal weapons, create a one-world government and send dissenters to concentration camps.
The number of radical right groups has grown exponentially in recent years, especially since President Obama took office, Potok said. SPLC is monitoring how some of them, and their ideas, are making their way into the mainstream.
SPLC monitors newspapers and other media, underground literature and law enforcement activity nationwide to develop its list of hate groups. It also interviews people who defect from the groups, Potok said — for instance, the angry girlfriend of a leader might come to SPLC and reveal the group’s secrets to get back at him.
It currently has more than 1,000 active groups on its list, including 15 in Oregon. Almost all espouse hate, he said, but not all are engaged in criminal activity.
Potok said the SPLC aims to accurately portray what the groups are doing and saying, as well as what they are thinking.
“We are not opposed to free speech,” he said. “We’ve never suggested that speech be suppressed.”
For example, Potok said, the Family Research Council is on SPLC’s list not because it believes homosexuality is wrong, but because it continues to present malicious falsehoods.
One of FRC’s claims is that gay men are 50 times more likely to molest children than straight men. But that theory has been thoroughly debunked.
That makes the claim hateful, qualifying for the SPLC list, he said. “Are there many worse things you can call someone other than a child molester?” he asked.
Potok spent two decades as a journalist at major newspapers before joining the SPLC, an organization dedicated to fighting hate groups and bigotry and promoting tolerance and respect.He has testified before the U.S. Senate and the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights.
He spoke Wednesday night at Linfield, addressing the topic of hate crimes and extremism nationwide and in the Northwest. He visited Willamette University in Salem on Thursday for a round of similar activities.
The two colleges worked cooperatively to bring him to Oregon.