By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Civil rights advocate, hate groups expert, booked at Linfield

Submitted photo
Mark Potok
Submitted photo
Mark Potok

Potok’s headliner lecture on hate crimes and extremism is slated for 7:30 p.m. in the Richard and Lucille Ice Auditorium, in Melrose Hall. Earlier in the day, he can be heard on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s noon radio show, Think Out Loud, which will be broadcast before a live audience at the college.

He is also scheduled to visit Willamette University’s Salem campus for a Thursday speaking engagement. The two private liberal arts colleges teamed up to bring him to the Northwest.

Potok is a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization dedicated to fighting hate groups and bigotry while promoting tolerance and respect.

He is editor of the organization’s quarterly Intelligence Report and serves as an investigative reporter with its Hatewatch blog. He has testified before the U.S. Senate and the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights.

According to Potok, about 1,000 hate groups currently exist somewhere in the country, including neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, border vigilantes and the Ku Klux Klan.

Hate activities are just as much a problem today as in the past, he said. And with the growth of the anti-government right, extremist ideas are becoming a more accepted part of the mainstream, according to his piece in the 2010 Intelligence Report for the SPLC, “Rage on the Right, The Year in Hate and Extremism.”

“The radical right caught fire last year, as broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation,” Potok said in his report. “Hate groups stayed at record levels ... Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80 percent...

“And, most remarkably of all, so-called ‘Patriot’ groups — militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose ‘one-world government’ on liberty-loving Americans — came roaring back after years out of the limelight.”

Potok is a graduate of the University of Chicago. Prior to joining the SPLC staff in 1997, he spent two decades as a journalist at major newspapers, including The Miami Herald and Dallas Times Herald. While working for USA Today, he covered the 1993 Waco siege, the rise of militias, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the trial of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has roots in the work of Alabama lawyer Morris Dees in Montgomery.

In the 1960s, civil rights laws were being enacted, but society was not keeping pace. Blacks in the South were still being shut out of opportunities for jobs, education and elective office.

Dees teamed with fellow lawyer Joe Levin in an effort to ensure civil rights became a reality.

Levin and Dees formally incorporated the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971, taking their effort national.

Today the SPLC continues to fight for justice and equality for society’s most vulnerable citizens. Its lawsuits have helped eradicate hate groups, protect immigrant workers from abuse, get rid of institutional racism and bring about more equal rights for women, children and disabled people.

SPLC also has developed a curriculum, called Teaching Tolerance, that teachers can use in lessons about the value of tolerance and diversity.

Potok’s visit to Linfield is being sponsored by the Department of Mass Communication and the Office of Multicultural Programs. For more information, contact Professor Brad Thompson, who chairs Mass Communication, at bthomps@linfield.edu.

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