The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Yes, Virginia, Hate Crimes Do Exist

One recent evening in Sandy, Utah two teens were outside the home of one of them talking and hugging one another. Christian Peacock didn’t want his boyfriend Jacob Metcalf to leave and kept finding excuses to keep talking.

A car of local bigots drove by and screamed insults, calling them “fucking fags” and the like. The haters drove on and the couple ignored it. Christian had been getting this sort of hate since he started high school and came out as gay.

After awhile the car reappeared, stopped and the hate spewed out of the mouths of the inhabitants again. It was raw, unequivocal hate in verbal form by boys who didn’t know the couple they were insulting. The hate wasn’t directed at Christian and Jacob per se, it was meant for all gay people. There was no prior dispute between the victims and the attackers — it was just hate that felt safe to exhibit — especially since the boys were outnumbered.

Hate turned to violence, as it often does. As a result Christian had a concussion and swelling of the brain.

This exhibits well the reasons hate crime laws need to be in place and are consistent with individual rights.

There was a time I made assumptions about these laws, which I later realized were not true. I didn’t see all the facts and when I did I changed my mind about the issue.

Previously, I saw the crime as the same as any other similar act of violence, but with an additional punishment for the individual’s opinion or motivation. If Bill hits Bob I saw that as a crime, if he hit Bob because he didn’t like blacks, instead of because they disagreed about a football team, I saw that as opinion — albeit a bad opinion. I drew the conclusion the attacker was also being punished for his opinion — a thought crime.

But, then I realized many hate crimes were not that simple, they had a second element to them — a second crime.

Consider certain acts of vandalism, such as painting swastikas on the side of synagogues. The first crime is the vandalism, but the second is the desire to intimidate and threaten an entire community of people.

The hate criminal intends to terrorize specific communities, not specific individuals. Bigotry in general is collectivistic in nature; it is the abandonment of liberal individualistic values. It attacks people, not for what they have done, but for who they are. The bigot who goes out “f*g bashing” has no beef with the individual victim, he is trying to send a message to all gays, to intimidate all of them. To accomplish this attack on the “collective” group, he targets one in particular. I see those as two separate, but related crimes.

Harassing and intimidating someone is a crime. It is still a crime when you harass and intimidate a group of people. Attacking one person is also a crime. The hate criminal is committing two crimes. One is the attack on the individual and the second his attempt to intimidate all similar group members.

Hate crime laws are not equally well written. But, when there is an attempt to harass or intimidate one group of people that in itself is one crime; when it is carried out by assaulting an individual or a specific piece of property that is a second crime. I think the direct attack deserves more punishment than the intimidation. I do think many crimes against individuals and property should be classified as hate crimes because there is the second crime of attempting to intimidate and harass. For that offense there should be an additional punishment.

In recent years hate crimes have dramatically escalated following an explosion in hate speech. But the speech wasn’t just some street corner clown ranting and raving, it has come from Republican Governors, Senators, Representatives and even the White House.

For instance, the odious Donald Trump has repeatedly encouraged hate by referring to Covid as “the Chinese virus.” In short order there was a massive escalation in attacks on Asian-Americans, especially the elderly. A study of tweets found that racist hash tags were attached more often when people used “Chinese virus” as opposed to the actual name Covid. But these bigots didn’t just repeat Trump’s hate — they acted.

NBC reported:

According to the data, the surge in reported anti-Asian hate crimes is significantly higher than it was in 2020, when they increased by 124 percent compared to the year before. New York City had a particularly drastic rise, from 30 to 133 anti-Asian hate crimes, a 343 percent increase. San Francisco also experienced an alarming jump, from nine to 60 crimes, a 567 percent increase. And Los Angeles had a similarly sizable hike of 173 percent.

Trump started pushing the claim that Mexicans were bringing crime to America — their actual crime rate is lower than native-born Americans — and a white nationalist traveled to El Paso to specifically execute Latino shoppers at a local Walmart. He executed 23 people and wounded another 23. One of his grievances used to justify the killing was Hispanics were seen as voting Democrat and not Republican.

Florida’s extreme authoritarian governor Ron DeSantis started pushing his “don’t say gay” campaign that relied heavily on bible-thumpers — who demand access to preach to school kids — screaming that LGBT people are groomers out to rape children.

A study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, and the Human Rights Campaign, found the DeSantis hate campaign increased attacks on LGBT people as child molesters — a favorite old lie from evangelical preachers. DeSantis lied and referred to his hate laws as “anti-grooming legislation.” His press secretary, Christina Pushaw openly said, “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming.”

After DeSantis’s office cued the MAGA Mob that only child rapists would opposed censorship “hateful references to gays, lesbians and other LGBTQ people surged online.” Use of the pedophile smear and “grooming” claims increased over 400 percent on social media. Bigots love the term because in the eyes of many it justifies the use of violence.

The GOP has become the party of organized hate. Whether you hate Asians, African-Americans, women, gays, trans individuals they will cater to your prejudices and encourage them provided you give them, and their evangelical masters, total power.

You may remember the religious fanatic who stormed a gay club in Orlando and executed 43 people, injuring another 53. Not long after the news of this slaughter broke the evangelical Republican Lt. Gov. of Texas, Dan Patrick, had this to say, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” If that wasn’t approval what was it?

Republican candidates across the country are now spewing lies claiming drag shows or trans individuals are “groomers” preparing children to be molested. However, the latest report from the Southern Baptist Convention seems to indicate Baptist preachers are far more likely to be sexual groomers than drag queens or trans individuals — but they’re Republicans so the GOP will ignore it.

A team of reporters from the Houston Chronicle exposed hundreds of leaders of America’s largest evangelical sect had been found guilty of sexual abuse. There story forced the SBC to admit they kept a secret list of church leaders who were guilty of sexual assault and the official church list had 700 names on it.

The two worst states with Baptist abusers were Texas and Florida, the very states whose governors are constantly waging war on the LGBT community claiming they are abusers. But when they have actual sexual abuse on a massive scale going on they turn a blind eye to it.

We have a situation today where a major party, not some offshoot such as George Wallace’s “American Party” is actively courting bigotry and spewing hate. This tells the bigot hate is justified and this acts as a permission slip to act upon it. When these hate criminals act they commit two separate crimes. They commit a crime against a specific victim, but they also act to terrorize an entire community — which is a second crime.

When they are found guilty of a hate crime it is this second offense that acts to increase the sentence, it isn’t merely that they hated people, its that they acted against both an individual member of that group and the entire group as a whole. For that second crime an enhancement of their sentence is justified.

And, I would suggest one more thing, all decent people should go to the polls and vote against the Party of Hate.


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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.