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Hate Groups On The Rise In Montana, MHRN Says

Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network
Courtesy Rachel Carroll Rivas

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual national census of organizations it considers extremist or hate based. It includes groups in Montana. Montana Human Rights Network Co-Director Rachel Carroll Rivas spoke with MTPR's Edward O'Brien for a statewide perspective that started with her definition of hate groups.

Rachel Carroll Rivas: In the case of the Human Rights Network, we consider organizations that are promoting bigotry and discrimination against specific groups of people for their identity within those groups, and that are advocating policies and actions that do discriminate against those folks and promote bigoted ideas.

Edward O'Brien: Is being concerned about, say, radical Islam, publicly, vocally discussing the issue; does that constitute hate activity? I guess what I'm driving at is, one group's hate speech may be another group's free and reasonable speech.

RCR: I don't think being a hate group is mutually exclusive to believing in the right of free speech. It's also our right to make sure that we point out when that is hurtful and when that is promoting false ideas about groups of people. The example with radical and extremist groups, I think that that's different from grouping whole religions into one.

EO: Ms Rivas, the Southern Poverty Law Center this week released a map, tell us about it.

RCR: Yeah, what the Southern Poverty Law Center noted was again an increase in hate groups across our country, and that included a slight increase in Montana with hate groups, particularly in the area of anti-Muslim groups in the state and in the country. There are a few less white supremacist organizations that are more general white supremacist groups than we have in other years in Montana, and more that are associated specifically with ACT For America, four of those; and then one additional anti-Muslim organization, American Security Rally, that is new to the list in Montana. The other 10 groups are part of the anti-government militant militia movement.

EO: I know the Montana Human Rights Network launched an online hate incident reporting form. What does it do, when did it launch?

RCR: We saw a marked increase in the number of reports were were receiving, and that we were noticing hate activity in the state in the few weeks prior to the president's election and the weeks following that, for us meant that we needed to have a more central location to be able to offer for folks to report that we could follow up on. And we received about a dozen reports just in the 3 weeks after the election. That's about as many as we receive in the course of a year. Since then we've received about two dozen more.

EO: And how many of these reports have actually been confirmed and been followed up on in the legal system?

RCR: Some of these activities do hit the level of being illegal action, but we're also talking about graffiti, we're talking about hateful comments directed at LGBT people, immigrants, people of color. Some of these activities don't actually have legal remedies. The remedy is instead that we talk about the impact of them and we do community organizing to make sure folks know this stuff is hurtful and harmful and that we promote a more positive vision for a more inclusive community.

EO: Does this problem cut both ways? I have seen, on television, not personally, a lot of physical violence perpetrated against Trump supporters, women getting punched in the face at a rally who supported Trump; people with "Make American Great Again" hats getting maced in the face; the riots last summer in San Jose at a Trump rally where people who were going to hear the candidate of their choice, they were harassed, beaten down outside the event. Is that also considered hate activity?

RCR: Absolutely. Those are examples, most of which I'm not familiar with, but the examples you given, to me, sound like acts of violence that are acts of assault and things that do fall within our legal system and making sure that folks can feel safe without threat of violence and actual violence to be able to practice their free speech and their political activity.

I think the difference that we're talking about is organizations that are actually promoting policies, they're also promoting larger ideas targeting whole groups of people; immigrants, Muslim people, Jewish people. And these are about an ideology that is harmful to huge groups. Both things are wrong, but they are wrong in different ways.

EO: But it is ideologically motivated violence, isn't it? Assaults and harassment against a large group of people who support a certain candidate.

RCR: It is not necessarily the same thing because we are talking about people who are used to having a lot of privilege. And again, not okay for them to be subject to violence, but we're talking about hate groups specifically targeting groups who are oppressed, who don't have that same amount of privilege. History is important and context is important. Again neither thing is okay, but they're wrong in different ways.

EO: Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, thank you for your time and for your perspective.

RCR: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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