By Jim Bleyer
Organized “hate groups” are expanding in number and membership throughout the country with Florida one of the fastest growing states in this dubious regard.
Some of the 75 groups operate statewide while others confine their activities locally. Hate groups cluster in Southeast Florida and the Tampa Bay area, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation’s primary tracker of such statistics.
Some of the bad actors called out by the SPLC in Tampa Bay: the Proud Boys, a burgeoning far right, neo-fascist organization that admits only men as members and promotes political violence, has one of four Florida chapters here; the American Freedom Party, a “third position” political party that promotes white nationalism; Straight Way and More (Venice), considered anti-Muslim; Identity Evropa, an American neo-nazi and white supremacist organization established in March 2016.
The Nation of Islam, a black supremacist and anti-Semitic organization, has seven chapters in Florida including two in Tampa and St. Petersburg and two in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.
In Southeast Florida, the Isrealite Church of God in Jesus Christ with a chapter in West Palm Beach is obsessed with hatred for Edomites (descendants of Esau); Stormfront, the first major hate site on the Internet, is based in WPB; League of the South, with six Florida chapters including one in Hialeah, is a white nationalist, Neo-Confederate, white supremacist organization.
One of the more intriguing listings is Bill Keller Ministries based in St. Petersburg. The 61-year-old televangelist opposes almost everyone and everything: Islam, Latter Day Saints, homosexuality, even mainstream preachers.
Keller served three years in prison for insider trading. During his confinement he found religion through Liberty University’s distance learning program. Keller threatened to sue the SPLC for $100 million because of the “hate group” label applied to his ministry.
Labeling these organizations as hate groups is validated by their actions and rantings.
For example, American Freedom Party Chairman William Johnson, has been quoted as saying “our time has come through Trump” and that “both Republicans and Democrats embrace globalization but nationalism is what is going to save Western Civilization.”
Last month, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan launched a verbal attack on the Jews, blaming them for anti-black racism, slavery, colonialism and dehumanization, as well as numerous problems that have befallen the world and modern society.
The United States is rapidly becoming more hateful with 954 mostly white hate groups in 2017 compared to 917 in 2016, that target African Americans and other races, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Heidi Beirich, who leads SPLC’s Intelligence Project, defines hate groups as those who vilify an entire class of people on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender. Their methodology is similar: actively attempting to recruit new members through forums, websites, newsletters, and public interaction.
The SPLC, according to its website, is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. It uses litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy to achieve that goal.
Groups do not have to engage directly in violence to earn the “hate” label. The SPLC lists them based on demonizing propaganda which fuels violence.