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House Hearing on Hate Crimes and White Nationalism Draws Internet Haters

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On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a four-hour hearing on hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism, after the NAACP wrote a letter to the Judiciary Committee in March asking for an investigation into the rise of hate crimes. “Sadly, many with racist beliefs have been emboldened by a national climate in which our nation’s highest office sanctions dog whistle politics and xenophobic rhetoric,” said NAACP president Derrick Johnson.

An FBI report late last year showed a 17 percent rise in hate crimes from 2017, making it the third consecutive year hate crimes have increased. In 2018, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., and 78 percent of those murders were perpetrated by white supremacists.

Horrifically, 2019 has already seen a number of high profile acts of domestic extremism including a series of church fires in central Louisiana, the arrest of the white nationalist Coast Guard officer who was stockpiling weapons to kill Democrats and journalists, and the white nationalist logo that was painted alongside burnt-out historic Highlander school where civil rights legends like Rose Park were trained. The white supremacist terrorist who murdered 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand also cited U.S. influences including Candace Owens and the white nationalist terrorist Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in South Carolina in 2015.

During the hearing, YouTube was forced to shut down its live-stream comment section after a torrent of racist and anti-Semitic comments flooded the discussion. Following the shutdown, a popular racist YouTube channel live-steamed the hearing, using it as a fundraiser. For at least the first hour of the hearing, a YouTube search brought people directly to that racist channel, according to reporting from Gizmodo.

Testifying at the hearing were Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha — whose two children and son-in-law were murdered in a North Carolina hate crime in 2015, Eva Paterson from the Equal Justice Society, Eileen Hershenov from the Anti-Defamation League, and Kristen Clarke from the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“Instead of hiding under hoods they hide behind computer screens,” Clarke said of the changing nature of the white nationalist threat. She called for better data collection and reporting on the local level and for the Department of Justice to play a more active role by pursuing incidents of hate in schools and workplaces. Clarke also called on banks, tech companies, and web hosts to take action, saying they are all a part of an “infrastructure that feeds hate [which] must be dismantled.”

“When [white nationalists] dehumanize and demonize refugees or Muslims, or anyone less form a marginalized community, that is a problem,” said Hershenov. “And when you have anti-Muslim bans and anti-immigrant and refugee policies, this celebrates and emboldens white supremacists.”

Hershenov, among others, also called for a reinstatement of the recently disbanded DHS program for tracking domestic terrorism.

Eva Paterson’s recommendations included doing away with the lone wolf narrative in recognition of the international movement of white nationalism, calling for a counterinsurgency task force to address the issue, studying the role of social media in enabling the threat, developing a database and clearinghouse on white nationalism, and fortifying the 15th Amendment to allow greater participation in the vote. Paterson concluded her recommendations to combat white nationalism with a call for humane immigration policies. “Right now, there are Latino children in cages, and we think this is a definite manifestation of white supremacy and white nationalism,” said Paterson.

Representatives from Facebook and Google were also there to testify to what their companies were doing to combat hate and white nationalism on their platforms. Prior to the hearing, on March 26, Facebook announced it would begin to ban white nationalist content on their site. This was seen as a positive step, but as Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) told Neil Potts, who was representing Facebook, “I hope you do more.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) also asked both tech representatives to commit to handing over both their company’s policies and practices around removing this content as well as the data on what content the platforms are removing. They said their practices were public but dodged the question about the data, which other experts on the panel said would be necessary to fully understand and track the problem.

The Republican witnesses, however, stood in stark contrast to the rest. Mort A. Klein of the Zionist Organization of America and Candace Owens of Turning Point USA were both far-right political activists who have a previous history of inflammatory comments.

Klein, who has a history of Islamophobic rhetoric, used his time to claim that Christchurch shooter was “a left-wing, self-described ‘eco-fascist,’” defended Donald Trump’s comments after Charlottesville, and twice compared Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to white nationalist Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

Instead of testifying about the rise of white nationalism, Owens absurdly claimed that Democrats’ talk about white nationalism was a political ploy to “scare black people” into voting for them. She claimed “handouts and fear … reparations and white nationalism” was the Democratic 2020 strategy. Also in her opening remarks, Owens falsely asserted that the racist “Southern strategy” was a myth.

That was when Rep. Ted Lieu (R-CA) stepped up with receipts. “I don’t know Ms. Owens. I’m not going to characterize her. I’m going to let her own words do the talking,” said Rep. Lieu, before he played an audio clip of Owens defending the term nationalism and talking about Hitler. In the clip you can hear Owens say, “you know, he was a National Socialist, but if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, okay fine. The problem is he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize. He wanted everybody to be German.” 

At the end of the clip, Lieu asked, “When people try to legitimize Adolf Hitler, does that feed into white nationalist ideology?”

“Yes,” replied Hershenov from the ADL, after noting that Owens was forced to distance herself from those comments after earlier criticism.  

During her time Rep. Jayapal, while not blaming Owens for the Christchurch murders, questioned the efficacy of bringing Owens as a witness to a hearing on how to prevent the rise of hate crimes and white nationalism. (Republicans, of course, have a history of bringing inappropriate witnesses to Congressional hearings.) “I think for people across the country who are watching this hearing, the idea that somehow we would give any legitimacy to speech that anyway might be considered as triggering that kind of action. . . I do think that is deeply hurtful for people across this country that might be watching this to see some of those things expressed or give legitimacy,” she said.