Shame of the commonwealth: PA tied for no. 3 in US for hate groups

By Rich HeilandColumnist, The Times

PENNSYLVANIA is tied for third among states…..and not in a good way.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has released its “The Year in Hate & Extremism Report” for 2022. The report tallies up the number of hate and/or extremist groups in the country by state.

Topping the list with 103 is California. Next comes Florida with 89. No surprise there. The state currently is home to both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. Then comes Pennsylvania in a tie with Texas at 72. For greater Philly area residents, quite a few of the state’s identified groups are in our backyards.

I am not surprised. Back in 1992 when I lived in Hanover, PA I found myself working with a sub-committee of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission that was dealing with hate groups. At that time Pennsylvania actually led the nation in the number of hate groups. I was surprised. Like a lot of people, I tended to fall into the William Penn Quaker image of the state and it’s really nothing like that at all.

So, how does the SPLC define groups? Overall, it identified 1,225 Hate or anti-government extremist groups.

The hate category is defined as a group that has specifically targeted people or groups of people based on immutable characteristics, such as race, religion, ethnic background or sexual identify.

The Greater Philadelphia is home to some of the groups the Southern Poverty Law Center has on its list of hate and anti-government groups and Chester County is not immune. It’s time to speak out, get involved and above all, VOTE!

An anti-government extremist group is defined as one that views government as an enemy and relies on baseless conspiracy theories. These groups often have political agendas that combine white nationalism with attacks on legitimate history, science and other areas. These groups often work together and, in some instances, create off-shoots or splinter groups.

SO, WHAT’S UP in our part of the state?

There are quite a few groups associated with outfits like the Klan, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and others that are statewide. But in Philly the SPLC has identified The American Christian Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

One of the most active groups is the Berks County Patriots, which sent a group to participate in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The most pervasive anti-government extremist group, must added to the list, is Moms for Liberty, the Florida-born movement that purports to be saving our white children from being embarrassed by real history, real science and spared the ordeal of wearing masks in time of plague. The group just concluded its annual conference in Philadelphia and the attendees were a A-list of far-right wingers including Republican presidential wannabes.

Moms is all over the 2022 report because it has local chapters. Close to home there are chapters in Chester County, Lancaster County, Lehigh County, Montgomery County, Berks County, Bucks County and Delaware County.

What is the difference between the hate groups and the extremist/anti-government groups like Moms? Basically style, timing and commitment, ultimately, to violence.

One of the biggest concerns with all the militias and other violent groups is the amassing of weaponry. Those who follow hate groups are concerned that the spike in gun sales over the past few years is coming from these groups who are trying to arm themselves to at least a semi-military level.

According to one study of the more than 400 million privately-owned firearms in the United States, a majority of those guns are owned by a small slice of the population – about half are owned by three percent of the population. A six-year-old study by Harvard and Northeastern Universities eight percent own ten or more guns. These studies do not include black market, or illegal purchases, nor do they include other types of weapons beyond guns.

The obvious concern with the hate groups is that they could choose to institute some sort of armed terror campaign, ala the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

GROUPS LIKE MOMS, however, may actually pose the greatest threat. Their goal, and the goals of sub-groups like Back-to-Basics West Chester, is to take over school boards and do a couple of things. One is to radically change curriculum. The other is to increase tax-payer aid to schools other than traditional public ones, such as charter schools and other private, often religious, schools.

Moms is playing a long game. Back in the early 1970s conservative Republicans began a stealth campaign to destroy government. Over time they quietly worked their way into office and the end result, as we have seen, is Donald Trump, massive efforts to destroy the social programs that began with Franklin D. Roosevelt and the turning of the U.S. Supreme Court into a far-right implement.

Moms is on a similar path. Moms wants to eliminate history and science. In Moms world, based on the conservative Hillsdale College curriculum, blacks became free in 1865 and since them have had nothing to whine about. Native-Americans were primitive, not using their lands to their full potential so it was only right that white Manifest Destiny take over those lands. On the science front, there is no such thing as sexual identification based on genetics – to be or not to be gay is a choice. Same with transgender folks. And, of course, man has not contributed to climate change.

To a degree this is not unlike the efforts of the Nazis in the 1930s, through groups like the Hitler Youth, to create generations of Germans who would see their country only through the eyes of the state. With Moms, it is embedding a generation of young minds with what amounts to White Christian Nationalism, erasing the history of non-whites.

You only need to look at the horrible curriculum now in place in the Florida of Ron DeSantis for an example of what could be coming to our local schools if Moms and their stealth off-shoots prevail at the ballot box.

But, Moms is not totally isolated from the hate groups. In Florida, at least, there indications of ties with the Proud Boys. Many of the hate groups and anti-government groups share common ground.

As we go into local elections this November, then national elections in 2024, what really will be on the ballot is democracy as we have known it. Either those who believe in a free, open and inclusive society will prevail or the dark forces outlined in the SPLC report, and others, will. Pretty simply, isn’t it?

So, if you count yourself among those who want to go the light instead of the dark, where the ghosts of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and others wait in the mists, vote. And, speak out. We are in a time when there can be no bystanders. Inaction serves hate.

Rich Heiland is a retired reporter, editor and publisher. He has been a part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team, National Columnist of the Year and a journalism instructor. He lives in West Chester.

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One Comment

  1. Erik Wilder says:

    What a horribly biased and error-load article if it can be called one. This leftwing writer has the audacity to call Moms for Liberty a hate group. He totally discredits himself across the board. The Unionville Times has become nothing but a junk tabloid.

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