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Hate Crime Training For Police Is Often Inadequate, Sometimes Nonexistent

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.
by A.C. ThompsonRohan Naik and Ken Schwencke

To become a police officer in the U.S., one almost always has to enroll in an academy for some basic training. The typical academy session lasts 25 weeks, but state governments — which oversee police academies for local and state law enforcement officers — have wide latitude when it comes to choosing the subjects that will be taught in the classrooms.

How to properly identify and investigate hate crimes does not seem terribly high on the list of priorities, according to a ProPublica review.

Only 12 states, for example, have statutes requiring that academies provide instruction on hate crimes.

In at least seven others — Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas — recruits aren’t required to learn about hate crimes at all, according to law enforcement officials.

Even states that provide new recruits with at least some education on hate crimes often provide training that is cursory at best.

Officials overseeing police training in three states — Wisconsin, North Carolina and Washington — told ProPublica that their recruits spent about 30 minutes of class time on the subject.

Hate crimes in America have made no shortage of headlines over the last year as the country has once more confronted its raw and often violent racial, religious and political divisions. Just how few hate crimes get formally reported and analyzed has shocked many. Fewer still get successfully prosecuted, a fact that has provoked frustration among some elected officials and law enforcement agencies.

But the widespread lack of training for frontline officers in how to handle potential hate crimes, if no great surprise, might actually be the criminal justice system’s most basic failing. There is, after all, little way to either accurately tabulate or aggressively prosecute hate crimes if the officers in the street don’t know how to identify and investigate them.

Hate crimes are not, by and large, simple to deal with. Different states identify different categories of people to be protected under their laws. And the authorities must prove not only guilt, but intent. It isn’t enough to find fingerprints on a weapon. The authorities must explore a suspect’s state of mind, and then find ways of corroborating it.

“Hate crimes are so nuanced and the laws can be so complex. You’re trying to deal with the motivation of a crime,” said Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which has for years provided training to officers as expert consultants.

“Thirty minutes in the academy is not enough,” Geft said.

Though each state operates its police academies differently, most of them rely on a training council or commission to oversee the institutions, shape the curriculum and set minimum standards for graduation.

ProPublica spent weeks trying to answer the question of how, if at all, police departments prepare their officers to respond to possible hate crimes, which are known as bias crimes in some jurisdictions. We interviewed key officials in 45 states and the District of Columbia about the lessons being taught to new recruits during their police academy classes. We reviewed thousands of pages of training material — curricula, detailed lesson plans, legal guidance, PowerPoint presentations and videos. We studied the statutes and regulations governing police training around the nation and interviewed experts who have spent years educating officers and federal agents. Several states declined to discuss their instructional practices, or provide ProPublica with any training materials.

Among our findings:

A key federal training program was scuttled during the early days of the Obama administration as police leaders concerned about violence colored by race, religion and politics shifted their focus toward Islamic extremists and terrorism. That program, which was run by an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, sent experts around the country to teach local and state police officers how to respond to hate crimes.

State leaders at times displayed a lack of even basic knowledge about hate crimes. In Alaska, the state Department of Public Safety told ProPublica that officers in that state don’t learn about hate crimes during their time in the academy because Alaska doesn’t have a hate crimes law. In fact, Alaska’s hate crimes statute has been on the books since 1996.

Training materials used in Kansas explain the history behind the federal hate crimes law, but make no mention of Kansas Statute 21-6815 — the state’s hate crimes code — which is likely to be of more use to a local officer in Topeka or Wichita.

Some states that require hate crimes training often combine the instruction with what has long been called cultural sensitivity training. Such instruction typically involves material on the subtleties of dealing with specific ethnic or religious communities. Our review, however, showed some of those materials to be either hopelessly out of date or downright inflammatory.

Law enforcement leaders point to several factors to explain, if not justify, the lack of emphasis on training for hate crimes. While the offenses can be dramatic and highly disturbing — like the incident earlier this year in which a white supremacist impaled an African-American man with an 18-inch sword in New York’s Times Square — they represent a very small percentage of the nation’s overall crime. Working with often limited budgets, police officials have to make difficult decisions about what to prioritize during training, and hate crimes can lose out.

That said, the events of the last 18 months, driven in great part by the racially charged presidential campaign of 2016, seem to suggest an adjustment of priorities might be in order.

The number of Americans reporting hate crimes to the authorities has grown in recent years, with FBI figures showing an increase of nearly 5 percent in 2016 alone, a tally that included more than 2,000 physical attacks and beatings. More recent data shows double-digit hate crime spikes in several major cities.

Melissa Garlick, the Northeast Area Civil Rights Counsel at the Anti-Defamation League, would like to see every state pass legislation requiring hate crimes training. “We want law enforcement to have the tools they need to properly investigate hate crimes,” she said.

Hate crimes laws are not new. The earliest legislation was adopted by a pair of states in the Pacific Northwest — Oregon and Washington — in 1981 and, since then, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed their own hate crimes bills. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law a federal hate crimes bill named after murder victims James Byrd and Matthew Shepard. The FBI, for its part, has asked local and state law enforcement agencies to track hate crimes since 1990.

Yet today, nearly four decades after the first hate crimes law was passed, police officers in much of the country get little or no training on how the laws work, or what to look for when responding to a potential hate crime.

At the police academy in Huntsville, Alabama, instructors dedicate two weeks to educating recruits about the state’s penal code. Capt. Dewayne McCarver, who heads the academy, said he isn’t sure precisely how much time his staff spends discussing the Alabama hate crime law during those 10 days of legal instruction. In an interview, McCarver questioned whether the school needed to devote more than an hour, at most, to the subject.

The law, which dates to 1993, is similar to others across the country and focuses on individuals whose crimes are motivated by their victim’s “race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.” It acts as a “sentence enhancement,” adding time behind bars in cases ranging from property destruction to murder.

In class, McCarver said, instructors caution students to be “very careful” in classifying offenses as possible hate crimes when writing up incident reports. He worries that logging incidents as potential hate crimes can cause trouble for officers when they testify in court: an aggressive defense attorney might challenge the officer’s decision to label the offense as a hate crime, particularly if prosecutors don’t wind up charging it as such.

He told ProPublica that officers in Huntsville “rarely, if ever” designate offenses as hate crimes.

“It’s really a box that I personally wish they didn’t put on a case report,” he said.

In fact, according to FBI records, the Huntsville Police Department has never reported a bias-motivated crime to the federal government.

Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer, takes issue with McCarver’s approach.

“We should always train law enforcement to tag it as a possible hate crime at the time of report, as long the evidence is there,” said Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “We need accurate data, so communities can be aware of the extent of the problem and the characteristics of the offenses.”

Last year, the entire state of Alabama reported only 14 hate crimes to the FBI, a figure criminologists believe is inaccurate and represents a small sliver of the true number of hate crimes.

Once on the force, McCarver said, Huntsville officers get 40 hours of additional training each year. That added instruction, however, does not include hate crimes, he said.

“We have a limited amount of time,” McCarver said. “We have not had a reason to put hate crimes into the curriculum other than what we learn in the basic class.”

Huntsville isn’t unique: Across the border in Florida, two of that state’s largest law enforcement agencies, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department, also do not refresh cops on hate crimes after their initial instruction.

Boe Turner is chief of training for Nevada’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, the body that oversees academies in that state. Turner thinks officers shouldn’t go looking into the motivation of suspected offenders. That’s the job of prosecutors, he said. Victims, he added, tend to have little insight into the motivations of their assailants.

Experts disagree. Victims, they say, are critical sources of information, particularly in hate crime cases. Because the cases are difficult to prove — prosecutors must show conclusively that the offender was motivated by bigotry or bias — it’s crucial for police to gather as much evidence as possible, they argue, and victims often understand the circumstances surrounding a crime better than anyone.

“Training for law enforcement officials on identifying and investigating hate crimes is critical,” said Becky Monroe, a former federal prosecutor who now works for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Decent training, she added, can prepare officers for a pair of intertwined tasks: gathering the right evidence and calming the fears of community members who may feel frightened and vulnerable in the aftermath of an attack.

To better equip officers for such investigations, some state academies have developed thorough and detailed lessons on hate crimes. Instructors at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, for instance, work from a 61-page handbook, which ProPublica obtained. The manual profiles local white supremacist leaders and extremist groups, examines recent criminal cases and offers practical guidance for investigators.

But not all training guides are so impressive. A six-page handout used in Arizona lists a host of white supremacist groups that have completely disbanded or faded from relevancy, but fails to mention the Hammerskins or Vinlanders, two Nazi skinhead gangs that have murdered people in the state in recent years.

In Wisconsin, trainers fold hate crimes training into broader courses about cultural sensitivity and biased policing. The material includes some dubious racial generalizations.

“African Americans may distrust the motives or honesty of a speaker who is carefully neutral, objective, and unemotional,” one section of the guide states. “By contrast, European Americans may see someone who is speaking with a great deal of emotion as irrational.”

The federal government, for its part, has mounted several different training initiatives over the years, some more successful than others. Since the 1990s, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services branch has run training programs aimed at teaching law enforcement agencies how to collect hate crimes statistics and submit that data to the FBI; today, however, around 12 percent of those agencies still don’t gather the information at all and many more fail to give the bureau reliable data.

After the federal Shepard-Byrd Act passed in 2009, Cynthia Deitle, while serving as head of the FBI’s Civil Rights unit, began organizing hate crimes conferences for state and local officers, educational events that explained the mechanics of the various state laws and laid out the ways the FBI could assist with local hate crime cases. She remembers stressing to local officers the importance of gathering every possible clue, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Unfortunately, many of the events weren’t well attended, pulling in maybe 20 to 50 police officers apiece.

“We could not force a police officer to come to our training,” said Deitle, who is now an executive at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an advocacy group, adding that she understood the challenges faced by smaller agencies — many simply couldn’t take officers off the street for extra schooling.

While Deitle was trying to launch a new training effort, another federal program was coming to end.

For more than a decade, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers ran a program called “Train-the-Trainer” that routinely sent hate crimes specialists around the country to work with state and local cops. The idea was to educate police trainers and command staff about hate crimes so they could return to their departments and teach new recruits and frontline officers.

“It was a great program,” recalled Levin, the director of the extremism center in California who was one of the instructors. “I did stuff on everything from the hate groups to legal issues such as Supreme Court cases.” Levin said he volunteered his time out of a sense of mission and worked alongside experts from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ADL, as well as law enforcement figures.

But interest in the issue eventually waned. Several people familiar with the effort say it came to a halt in the early days of the Obama administration, in 2009, at a time when police departments were shifting their attention toward combatting acts of terrorism.

“Departments really wanted to focus on terrorism rather than hate crimes,” said Levin.

At FLETC, Communications Officer Christa Thompson wasn’t sure why the program shut down, but she did know what kind of courses the agency — which teaches local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement — is holding these days: internet investigations, active shooter response, marksmanship and more.

She said, “We do not currently offer hate crimes training” on a regular basis.

Header image: Members of the New York City Police Department attend their police academy graduation ceremony on March 30 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

 

More Than 100 Federal Agencies Fail To Report Hate Crimes To The FBI’s National Database

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

In violation of a longstanding legal mandate, scores of federal law enforcement agencies are failing to submit statistics to the FBI’s national hate crimes database, ProPublica has learned.

The lack of participation by federal law enforcement represents a significant and largely unknown flaw in the database, which is supposed to be the nation’s most comprehensive source of information on hate crimes. The database is maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which uses it to tabulate the number of alleged hate crimes occurring around the nation each year.

The FBI has identified at least 120 federal agencies that aren’t uploading information to the database, according to Amy Blasher, a unit chief at the CJIS division, an arm of the bureau that is overseeing the modernization of its information systems.

The federal government operates a vast array of law enforcement agencies — ranging from Customs and Border Protection to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Amtrak Police — employing more than 120,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers. The FBI would not say which agencies have declined to participate in the program, but the bureau’s annual tally of hate crimes statistics does not include any offenses handled by federal law enforcement. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that the FBI itself isn’t submitting the hate crimes it investigates to its own database.

“We truly don’t understand what’s happening with crime in the U.S. without the federal component,” Blasher said in an interview.

At present, the bulk of the information in the database is supplied by state and local police departments. In 2015, the database tracked more than 5,580 alleged hate crime incidents, including 257 targeting Muslims, an upward surge of 67 percent from the previous year. (The bureau hasn’t released 2016 or 2017 statistics yet.)

But it’s long been clear that hundreds of local police departments don’t send data to the FBI, and so given the added lack of participation by federal law enforcement, the true numbers for 2015 are likely to be significantly higher.

A federal law, the 1988 Uniform Federal Crime Reporting Act, requires all U.S. government law enforcement agencies to send a wide variety of crime data to the FBI. Two years later, after the passage of another law, the bureau began collecting data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” That was later expanded to include gender and gender identity.

The federal agencies that are not submitting data are violating the law, Blasher told us. She said she’s in contact with about 20 agencies and is hopeful that some will start participating, but added that there is no firm timeline for that to happen.

“Honestly, we don’t know how long it will take,”Blasher said of the effort to get federal agencies on board.

The issue goes far beyond hate crimes — federal agencies are failing to report a whole range of crime statistics, Blasher conceded. But hate crimes, and the lack of reliable data concerning them, have been of intense interest amid the country’s highly polarized and volatile political environment.

ProPublica contacted several federal agencies seeking an explanation. A spokesperson for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which handles close to 50,000 offenses annually, said the service is adhering to Defense Department rules regarding crime data and is using a digital crime tracking system linked to the FBI’s database. But the Army declined to say whether its statistics are actually being sent to the FBI, referring that question up the chain of command to the Department of Defense.

In 2014, an internal probe conducted by Defense Department investigators found that the “DoD is not reporting criminal incident data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for inclusion in the annual Uniform Crime Reports.”

ProPublica contacted the Defense Department for clarification, and shared with a department spokesman a copy of the 2014 reports acknowledging the failure to send data to the FBI.

“We have no additional information at this time,” said Christopher Sherwood, the spokesman.

Federal agencies are hardly the only ones to skip out on reporting hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation last year found at least 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments that repeatedly failed to report hate crimes to the FBI.

In the case of the FBI itself, Blasher said the issue is largely technological: Agents have long collected huge amounts of information about alleged hate crimes, but don’t have a digital system to easily input that information to the database, which is administered by staff at an FBI complex in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Since Blasher began pushing to modernize the FBI’s data systems, the bureau has made some progress. It began compiling some limited hate crimes statistics for 2014 and 2015, though that information didn’t go into the national hate crimes database.

In Washington, lawmakers were surprised to learn about the failure by federal agencies to abide by the law.

“It’s fascinating and very disturbing,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who said he wanted to speak about the matter with the FBI’s government affairs team. He wants to see federal agencies “reporting hate crimes as soon as possible.”

Beyer and other lawmakers have been working in recent years to improve the numbers of local police agencies participating in voluntary hate crime reporting efforts. Bills pending in Congress would give out grants to police forces to upgrade their computer systems; in exchange, the departments would begin uploading hate crime data to the FBI.

Beyer, who is sponsoring the House bill, titled the National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act, said he would consider drafting new legislation to improve hate crimes reporting by federal agencies, or try to build such a provision into the appropriations bill.

“The federal government needs to lead by example. It’s not easy to ask local and state governments to submit their data if these 120 federal agencies aren’t even submitting hate crimes data to the database,” Beyer said.

In the Senate, Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota said the federal agencies need to do better. “I’ve long urged the FBI and the Department of Justice to improve the tracking and reporting of hate crimes by state and local law enforcement agencies,” Franken told ProPublica. “But in order to make sure we understand the full scope of the problem, the federal government must also do its part to ensure that we have accurate and trustworthy data.”

Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, a House Republican who authored a resolution in April urging the “Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies to work to improve the reporting of hate crimes,” did not respond to requests for comment.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

In An Angry And Fearful Nation, An Outbreak Of Anti-Semitism

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

In late November, Marna Street, a violist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was walking to her car after a rehearsal. Street was shocked by what she discovered: Someone had painted a swastika, about 14 inches across, on the trunk of her car.

The vandals, Street said, had probably targeted her vehicle, which was parked in a garage not far from the University of Cincinnati, because she’d placed a magnet on it indicating that she is Jewish. Street eventually managed scrub off the graffiti. She put the magnet in the glovebox of her car.

“I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach, like somebody just punched me,” recalled Street, 68, speaking publicly for the first time. It was, she said, “a cross between fear and just plain hurt.”

Working with a coalition of organizations, ProPublica late last year launched “Documenting Hate,” an attempt to gather evidence of hate crimes and episodes of bigotry from a divided America. The account from Cincinnati is one of the anti-Semitic incidents the project has chronicled. But there are scores more.

Indeed, “Documenting Hate” recorded more than 330 reports of anti-Semitic incidents during a three-month span from early November to early February. The accounts — our list is by no means comprehensive — come via personal submissions, police documents, and news articles. The majority, though not all, have been authenticated through either news reports, interviews, or other evidence, like photos.

The incidents have taken place in big cities and small towns, along the country’s liberal coasts and in deep red states. Some of the episodes — swastikas and threatening messages spray-painted at schools and colleges around the nation — have been worrisome, though relatively minor. Others have been more serious, such as the 65 bomb threats targeting Jewish organizations across the country during the period we examined (there have been nearly 70 more since then). In many cases, the culprits singled out specific individuals for abuse, defacing their homes and autos with swastikas and menacing comments.

President Trump, after weeks of criticism for being slow to condemn the incidents, last week called them “horrible” and “painful” and “a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

The remarks, however, came after a number of confounding comments about the issue. During a Feb. 16 news conference, Trump castigated Jake Turx, a reporter for Ami, a Jewish magazine, for asking what the government was doing to address the increase in anti-Semitic events. Trump accused Turx of lying about the question he wanted to ask, and instructed him to sit down. And without citing any evidence, Trump has wondered whether some of the recent anti-Semitic incidents were carried out by liberals, or Jews themselves, intent on discrediting him.

“There’s a push on the left to conflate anti-Semitism with Trump, while at the same time criticizing him for having Jared Kushner, who wears his Jewishness as proudly as anyone, as his most trusted confidant and in the highest echelons of the White House staff,” said Joe Borelli, a Trump supporter who represents Staten Island on the New York city council, according to Breitbart News. “It is mind-boggling.”

The White House would not comment for the record when asked whether President Trump had in any way contributed to the threats and violence.

On a national level, data on hate crimes and bias incidents is spotty at best. The FBI admits the information it collects is incomplete — many police departments don’t participate in the hate crimes tracking program — and the bureau has yet to release statistics on 2016 and 2017. As a result, determining with authority whether anti-Semitic events are rising or declining is difficult.

There is little question, however, that the incidents have generated genuine concern. In a rare show of unity, all 100 U.S. senators this week issued a public letter urging the Department of Justice, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security to protect Jewish institutions and prosecute those responsible for terrorizing them. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a $25 million grant to better protect day care and community centers from threats.

The available data does support the idea of an uptick. After years of decline, anti-Semitic crimes began trending upward in 2015, according to FBI data. Experts say that increase seems to have accelerated in recent months, as Trump’s unique brand of nativist populism has helped to pull more extreme right-wing groups, some of them avowedly racist, closer to the political mainstream. On Twitter, openly anti-Semitic figures have built vast networks of supporters and cultivated large audiences, while the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website geared towards millennials, has seen its traffic grow to roughly a half a million unique visitors per month. In New York City, the police department said anti-Semitic hate crimes nearly doubled in the first two months of 2017 as compared to the same period last year.

“One of the constituencies Trump mobilized was the KKK-style anti-Semitic extreme right,” said Lawrence Rosenthal, a scholar of fascist history and director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups “had been absolutely on the fringe of American politics for at least my lifetime — and I am getting old.”

Oren Segal, who tracks anti-Semitic incidents in his role as director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, concurs. “The anti-Semites think they have a champion in the highest office,” said Segal, who believes that “divisive rhetoric” aired during last fall’s presidential campaign has emboldened racists and inspired them to strike out at their perceived enemies in the Jewish community.

“We have seen a significant uptick in the reports we’ve received, certainly starting around the election in November and continuing through the first two months of 2017,” Segal told ProPublica.

Amid the larger national debate about any responsibility Trump may bear for racist and anti-Semitic behavior, the accounts emerging from the “Documenting Hate” database offer a chance to appreciate the very personal experiences of violation and fear.

We identified:

ProPublica’s review, which did not involve incidents occurring online, where anti-Semitic trolling and abuse have become widespread, uncovered many episodes which had never before been reported by the media or investigated by police.

Our tally is almost surely an undercount. It consists of incidents covered in media reports, as well as accounts gathered by the Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of news organizations including ProPublica, Univision News, Buzzfeed News and The New York Times opinion section.

The reports we examined generally fall into two categories. Most appear to have been committed by angry individuals who aren’t affiliated with any organized group. They are often teens or adolescents who defame Jews — and other minority groups — through graffiti or verbal taunting. In some cases, the Nazi symbol was specifically aimed at non-Jews.

A smaller number were orchestrated by extremist political groups, such as the New Order, an outgrowth of the long-dormant American Nazi Party founded by George Lincoln Rockwell, and the Atomwaffen Division, a new, youthful fascist group. A handful of cases involved a saboteur who remotely hijacked computer printers at Stanford and other colleges, programming them to spit out page after page of neo-Nazi propaganda.

Some experts tracking this wave of incidents said it was crucial to situate them within a wider historical context.

“Generally, we’ve seen a remarkable decline in anti-Semitism over the past 40 years,” noted Jonathan Sarna, a history professor at Brandeis University and one of the foremost chroniclers of Jewish-American life. “In the 1950s, we didn’t just have bomb threats — we had bombings. Synagogues in the south were bombed.”

Sarna added: “It’s important to be vigilant and concerned. But it’s also important to not to overreact.”

Across the nation, Jews were directly harassed with hateful imagery and messages in dozens of instances we examined.

During Hanukkah last year, vandals desecrated a large home-made menorah that stood in the front yard of a home in Chandler, Arizona, twisting the sacred symbol into a swastika. Days after the presidential election, New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman found a swastika carved into the elevator door in his Manhattan apartment building and received a flyer in the mail saying that Jews would be “punished” for failing to convert to Christianity.

Not everyone who has encountered Nazi imagery is Jewish — gays, lesbians, African Americans, and others have also been targeted.

Consider the story of Karen Schaeffer, who found a swastika and the word “SCUM” drawn on her front door in mid-November.

“I was pretty scared,” said Schaeffer, who lives in Wyandotte, Michigan, a small blue-collar town outside of Detroit. “I’m not even Jewish, but I am a pretty loud-mouthed liberal woman in a town that doesn’t always appreciate that.”

She has an idea about what drew the attention of the anti-Semites: a campaign sign in her window for Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who unsuccessfully ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary.

Police came to Schaeffer’s house to investigate, but made no arrests.

In Cincinnati, Street, who is the principal violist emeritus with the symphony and a music teacher, said the graffiti on her car left her “feeling very vulnerable.” Her father and grandmother fled Nazi Germany for the safety of the U.S. in the 1940s.

Several weeks after Street’s car was defaced, schools in her city began getting hit with anti-Semitic graffiti.

First, someone painted a large white swastika on a sign at Cincinnati’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the largest seminary for Reform Judaism in North America.

When the incident happened in early January, it was another psychic blow for Street. She worried about her friends who work at the college, and tried to understand the acts of ugliness taking place in her city. The crimes, she said, “are not huge, but compounded they are very frightening.”

Across the nation, similar graffiti appeared on the campuses of at more than 35 other colleges during the three months examined by ProPublica.

Late on the night of Jan. 21, a mask-wearing vandal equipped with a spray can defaced Withrow University High School, a public school on Cincinnati’s east side, painting “Trump” and swastikas all over the campus. The vandal, who tagged signs, sidewalks and buildings, also painted anti-gay and anti-black slurs.

Dozens of other schools were also tagged with anti-Semitic graffiti during the same time period.

At a high school in Newton, Massachusetts, somebody wrote “Burn the Jews,” “white power,” and “Trump!!!” on a bathroom stall. At Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut, red swastikas were spray-painted all over the athletic complex. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, two teenage girls were expelled from Blackman High School for drawing a swastika in a bathroom stall.

“Some people will say that the swastika vandalism is just being done by a bunch of kids and dismiss it as irrelevant. I think it’s the opposite. The fact that young kids are doing this is potentially the scariest part of it,” said Segal of the Anti-Defamation League.

On college campuses, much of the new anti-Semitism has been coming from organized groups of extremists out to intimidate or recruit new members.

At the University of Washington, in Seattle, a pro-Trump student group calling itself the “UW Wall Building Association” flirted with Nazism in a public Facebook post suggesting that undocumented immigrants should be sent to “concentration camps.”

Neo-Nazis also crisscrossed the university campus at night, pasting up stark black-and-white posters threatening violence and uploading videos of their exploits to YouTube. One poster, featuring the death’s head, or Totenkopf insignia, used by the SS during World War II, promised to “Drive out the sodomites and degenerates of Seattle.” Another poster encouraged students to “join your local Nazis” and visit the website IronMarch.com, a fascist web hang-out that encourages people to exterminate Jews and start a “race war now.”

“People are just shocked. We can’t believe this is happening,” said a graduate student who requested anonymity for fear of being harassed.

When the student saw the posters, she said she felt physically ill. “I called my mom and was sobbing. I was so upset. My ancestors were slaughtered by the Nazis,” said the student, who is Jewish.

The neo-fascist organization did not reply to a request for an interview about its activities.

White nationalist groups including Identity Evropa, led by a California man convicted of attacking an Arab cab driver at gunpoint, and True Cascadia, which aims to promote “White ethnic consciousness in the Pacific Northwest,” are also propagandizing at the school.

Segal has tracked 112 instances of white supremacist groups posting flyers on college campuses since September 2016.

Over the past several months, synagogues and other Jewish institutions have come under sustained harassment.

In December, somebody repeatedly hurled rocks through the windows of Temple Menorah-Keneseth Chai, a historic synagogue in Philadelphia. On the opposite side of the country, in Las Vegas, a young man in jeans and a pull-over sweatshirt scratched a swastika into a black marble column during Shabbat services at Chabad of Southern Nevada.

In other states, Christian churches ministering to gays and lesbians or Latinos have also been tagged with swastikas.

But it is the array of bomb threats directed at Jewish community centers that has captured the most media attention and generated the most concern. Federal authorities on March 3 charged Juan Thompson, an erratic former journalist who once wrote for the Intercept website, with making threats to a small number of JCCs as well as other Jewish institutions.

But the figures responsible for the scores of threats to other JCCs remain at large. On March 7, another 17 locations of Jewish institutions in the U.S. received bomb threats.

Some faith leaders are urging President Trump to issue a stronger public condemnation of anti-Semitism before the problem worsens. “We need him to say very forcefully, ‘This is not acceptable’ — and to follow up with action,” said Rabbi Steven Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the nation’s most prominent rabbinical body.

Fox said Jewish community leaders have requested a meeting with the White House to discuss the surge in anti-Semitic activity, but, so far, have not been granted an audience with Trump or his advisors.

Within his denomination, Reform Judaism, “there is great concern about this uptick in hate crimes, this increase in hate speech,” Fox told ProPublica. “In the last two years we’ve seen this real hatred for anybody that’s different — hatred for Muslims, hatred for the LGBTQ community. We see it as a deeply troubling trend, not just in America, but in the world.”

IMAGE: Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

In An Ugly Election Result, Hate Surges Online

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica. 

Over the past month, more than 564,000 unique visitors have spent time on the Daily Stormer, a website that takes its name from a Hitler-era German tabloid, “Der Stürmer.” The site bills itself as “America’s #1 Most Trusted Republican News Source” and features headlines like “Jew Billionaires Meet to Overthrow Trump Government,” “Faggots and Jews Whining About Bannon Appointment,” and “Yes, Trump Really Can Make America White Again.”

Throughout Donald J. Trump’s ultimately successful run for the presidency, many worried that he had, willfully or recklessly, emboldened racists across the country. On Tuesday, Trump told the New York Times that had not been his intent.

“It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” Trump told the Times. He said he wasn’t sure what impact, if any, previous Republican campaigns had had in fomenting extremists, and thus if his impact had been distinctive. “I don’t know where they were four years ago, and where they were for Romney and McCain and all of the other people that ran, so I just don’t know, I had nothing to compare it to.”

Some who track the behavior and public profiles of racists in America, however, say Trump’s effect has been unmistakable. According to Alexa, a company that tracks web metrics, a range of white supremacist and so-called Alt-Right websites have seen surges in traffic across the last year. Those sites include Radix Journal, Virginia Dare, Red Ice, American Renaissance, and The Right Stuff, according to Alexa.

Most of the racist online publications still have relatively modest readerships, attracting between 100,000 and 300,000 unique visitors per month, far less than the typical daily newspaper in a small American city. But all have seen rapid growth. And many sites, among them Red Ice, which has advanced the idea that “the United States of America was built by white people for white people” and American Renaissance, which derides African Americans and Latinos as low-IQ losers, have seen their traffic more than double over the past year.

But Daily Stormer seems to have seen the most dramatic spike in readership. In a recent post, Daily Stormer claimed that since the election the site “has had an added 30% traffic.” Over the past month the site has had nearly 10 million page views.

Daily Stormer is a website run by Andrew Anglin, who is a neo-Nazi,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “Andrew Anglin has actively encouraged trolls to harass Jews and others online. He is still encouraging trolls to harass people.”

Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.

Researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, have watched as Anglin’s site has eclipsed older white supremacist sites since its founding in 2013.

For years, said the SPLC’s Ryan Lenz, the “go-to racist site” was Stormfront, a discussion forum started by ex-Klansman Don Black back in the 1990s, which had long served as the nexus of extreme right conversation on the web.

But Stormfront’s traffic has been surpassed by that of the Daily Stormer.

The success of the Daily Stormer, which features an abundance of crude humor and plenty of shareable memes and graphics, represents “a passing of the baton” from one generation of racists to the next, said Lenz who edits SPLC’s Hatewatch.

Of course, white supremacists are also making use of existing social media platforms and web forums, including Reddit, which features a robust Alt-Right subreddit that has also seen a spike in traffic this month, pulling in more than 80,000 unique visitors so far in November.

In Segal’s view, social media, along with heavily-trafficked forums like Reddit and the troll-haven 4chan, “are much more significant” tools for the rising white supremacist movement than avowedly racist web outposts like Daily Stormer and its ilk. Video clips, speeches and interviews featuring Alt-Right figures and white supremacists are also proliferating on YouTube, where some are drawing sizable audiences.

“The [white racist] sites aren’t insignificant but they’re not the whole picture,” Segal said.

In October the ADL issued a report documenting epidemic levels of anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter, much of it aimed at journalists covering the presidential campaign. “We found 2.6 million tweets using language commonly used by anti-Semites,” noted Segal. After coming under heavy criticism for tolerating a culture of abuse, Twitter has taken some steps to curb harassment and recently banned a handful of racist figures, including Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer

There is considerable anxiety about the potential for violence after a bitter national election. The data kept on hate crimes won’t reassure anyone. Read the story.

In his remarks to the Times, Trump pledged to take his own steps to counteract any rising racism.

“What we do want to do is we want to bring the country together, because the country is very, very divided,” he said. “It’s very, very divided, and I’m going to work very hard to bring the country together.”

Moving quickly on that work would be welcomed by many.

Segal said he has tracked a disturbing pattern over the past several weeks. “What we were seeing in terms of harassment online we’re now seeing on the ground” in the form of hate crimes in the physical world, he said. “It’s not surprising: We’re coming out of a very divisive election where white supremacists felt emboldened by the public discussion. They feel like they have a champion in the highest office.”

Hate Crimes Are Up — But The Government Doesn’t Know By How Much

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

In 2015, the authorities in California documented 837 hate-crime incidents, charting a surge in offenses motivated by religious intolerance toward Muslims and Jews, while crimes against Latinos grew by 35 percent.

Last week, shortly after Donald J. Trump was elected the country’s next president, the Southern Poverty Law Center put up a form on its website encouraging people to share details about potential hate crimes. By the next day, they’d received about 250 reports — more than they’re used to seeing in six months.

Then on Monday, the FBI released its latest national tabulation of hate crimes, data that showed an overall uptick of 6.8 percent from 2014 to 2015. The accounting, drawn from information passed on to the bureau by state and local law enforcement agencies, charted a 67-percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

The mix of information — state level, anecdotal, federally collected, dating from two years ago to last week — is sure to fuel the country’s evolving conversation and concern about the potential for violence in a divided America. Already, those worried about the consequences of Trump’s triumph have seized on some of the reports to stoke worry about emboldened white nationalists. And Trump’s supporters have moved quickly to try and debunk the swirl of alleged incidents of intimidation and violence that have surfaced in social media.

But even in the early stages of what promises to be a prolonged focus on crimes colored by prejudice and politics, there appears to be one irrefutable truth: the data is deeply flawed.

James Comey, the director of the FBI, said as much even as he announced the bureau’s latest batch of numbers.

“We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crimes to fully understand what is happening in our communities and how to stop it,” Comey said.

More than 3,000 state and local law enforcement agencies don’t report hate crimes to the FBI as part of its annual national survey of crime in America. Professor Brian Levin, who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said the entire state of Hawaii fails to file any such reports.

And many of the law enforcement agencies that do choose to participate do not appear to be particularly rigorous about documenting hate crimes and passing that information onto the federal authorities.

“A lot of agencies just submit a piece of paper saying they had no hate crimes,” added Levin, noting that the vast majority of police and sheriff’s departments reported no hate crimes last year.

The data appears particularly spotty in much of the South, a region with a long history of racial strife. Police in Mississippi reported zero hate crimes in 2015. In Arkansas, the number was eight. In Alabama, it was 12.

It seems the number of hate crimes on college campuses is also undercounted by the FBI. The most recent statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Education appear to show at least twice as many offenses occurring at colleges and universities as the FBI data.

The FBI “data system is of little help to authorities who investigate and track hate crimes,” wrote Ronald L. Davis, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, in an essay published earlier this year. “This is a significant problem because, if the authorities do not know how many hate crimes are committed, they cannot get an accurate picture of whether hate crime laws are effective, which can lead to fewer resources allocated to combating hate crimes.”

An FBI spokesperson acknowledged that nearly 20 percent of law enforcement agencies don’t participate in the program, but said the bureau was working “to improve the data collection.”

A key problem, said Phyllis Gerstenfeld, author of a well-known book on hate crimes, is that the FBI has no legal mechanism to compel law enforcement agencies to file crime reports or ensure that they submit accurate information.

Still, some states are doing an admirable job, noted Gerstenfeld, a criminology professor at California State University, Stanislaus. In California, for example, police officers receive training on hate crimes as part of their initial education at the police academy, which can help officers identify bigotry-driven offenses. California law requires police and sheriff’s deputies to closely monitor hate crimes and share their findings with both the California Attorney General and the FBI.

In total, the FBI documented 5,850 hate-crime incidents in the report it issued Monday, most targeting people on the basis of race or ethnicity, religious affiliation or sexual orientation. For some, the surge in crimes against Muslims was not surprising.

“It confirms what we’ve been seeing on the ground since late last year — a spike in hate crimes against Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group.

Since Trump claimed the presidency on Nov. 8, social media has been deluged with first-person accounts of racist incidents and attacks on Muslims, prompting BuzzFeed to compile a listicle titled “Here Are 26 Reported Racist Incidents After Donald Trump’s Victory.” This catalog of abuse included graffiti (lots of swastikas, and, in upstate New York, an exhortation to “Make America White Again”); violence (an African-American college student assaulted in Ohio); and intimidation in myriad forms (black students receiving online invitations to a lynching in Pennsylvania, a Muslim woman who was told “Your time’s up, girlie” on the New York subway, etc.).

Oren Segal, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, believes it’s too early to tell if reports are higher than normal because incidents are happening more frequently or because people are simply more aware of them. But he said the direct connection to a single politician is unique. “The fact that so much of it is being linked to our presidential campaign is very, very disturbing,” he said.

Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, agreed.

“This is way out of the norm,” she said of the striking number of reports collected in a single day last week. “People feel emboldened by Trump.”

IMAGE: Via Angie Quezada, Delta Daily News