But if racism is a constant, its mode of operation is not. Today there are all kinds of bigots. Yesterday's Klansmen in bedclothes are now published authors with a law practice on the side. The FBI and groups like the SPLC spend more time and dollars watching "suit-and-tie" racists than thugs breaking windows and looting shops. "It's not that we're looking at them to blow up the Federal building; this isn't the kind of group where they go out and beat people up," says Potok.
One such organization calls itself the American Third Position (ATP). The California-based group was formed in the last couple of years by Kevin MacDonald, a college professor and William D. Johnson, a lawyer out of L.A. According to Potok, MacDonald is "probably the most important anti-Semite in the U.S.," having written a trilogy of books attacking the Jews. The ATP is on an FBI watch list as they're trying to mount a real political effort and run candidates in states across the country, and bring white nationalist politics into the political mainstream.
Monitoring hate online
Just as many hate groups seem to be making a shift from good, old-fashioned street violence in favor of publishing and political careers, so too are these groups keeping a keener eye on their public image, including their members' online presence and activities. Police are watching, too. "The Internet often gives those on the radical right the feeling that they are part of a big movement that is active and moving forward every day," says Potok.
Hudgins makes a lot of cases on social networking sites alone. "People are crazy putting information [online]," he says, noting he once found swastikas and obscenities toward specific racial groups tagged with a specific MySpace moniker belonging to an individual living a mere three blocks away.
The Web may be a great place to get your ideology out, unedited. But it's also a two-edged sword.
Years ago the Internet was very much overplayed as the technology that was going to make these groups successful. Potok points out "they didn't grow super rapidly because of the Internet, but it did give them a number of things:" First, anybody can post anything anonymously. Also, it makes a group ideology vastly more available, so it's not uncommon to see 15, 16-year old kids getting interested. Whereas 20 years ago ... where did you find a Klan newspaper?
But these days, Hudgins finds even radicals are concerned with promotion. "The advice they're giving now is, 'Don't claim it, don't brag about it; because it just focuses national attention on us... Do the action, but do it clandestinely.'" White power groups might discourage their members from wearing hate symbol tattoos that will forever brand them. This attitude is common among both extreme left-wing and right-wing groups. Think environmental factions pouring sugar down the gas tanks of logging trucks and spiking trees with large nails to destroy chain saws. The idea is, the word will get out to those it's meant for. In the meantime, why advertise?
More agencies are also setting up specific units to monitor hate activities. Suffolk County (New York) Police Department's Hate Crime Unit has seven highly trained and experienced detectives, and two detective supervisors who are tasked with investigating hate crimes within the county. Still, every division within the department is required to provide an appropriate response to such incidents.
"Supervisory units are dispatched to all incidents with the slightest inking of hate or bias," says Deputy Inspector Christopher Bergold. In addition, new recruits receive hate crime training as part of their cultural awareness instruction, which includes basic Spanish language instruction. "This is nine times the amount required by New York State," says Bergold.
The community component
Community involvement is critical in detecting and preventing bigotry before it leads to a disaster like the Oxnard tragedy, where teen Lawrence King was shot and killed. Suffolk County takes pride in its aggressive public awareness and education program that includes age-appropriate presentations in schools, communities groups and religious congregations. The county recently established a Student Congress for Justice in local schools, which involves more than 300 participants from approximately 40 school districts, bringing students together to discuss and develop programs to promote acceptance.