Shortly after the terrible events in Charlottesville, a message came into my inbox from Governor Wolf. On the surface it read like the usual boilerplate with the fine print at the bottom reminding me that contributions and gifts to Tom Wolf for Governor are not tax deductible. But something about the tone of it was a bit different. In the email Wolf talked about the tragedy in Charlottesville and expressed his and his wife Frances’ sympathy for the victims. He denounced white supremacy and described the president’s response as “nothing short of disgusting and incendiary”. He also reminded us of the special place Pennsylvania holds in the nation because of its particular history, first as a colony built on values of freedom and tolerance, then as the place where the Declaration of Independence, the document which embodies those values was written and signed, and later as home to the battlefields of Gettysburg where people gave their lives to preserve and defend the young nation in order that those values could be enjoyed by all.
This started me to thinking. Where does a state like Pennsylvania, which sits north of the Mason Dixon Line, find itself on the continuum of tolerance and bigotry? I began to do a little sleuthing and what I found was troubling.
Back in February the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) published a study showing hate groups are on the rise across the country. SPLC has identified 917 organizations in the U.S. that qualify as hate groups. 40 of those groups have affiliates right here in PA. In fact, Pennsylvania ranks as the state with the 5th most hate groups in the U.S.
Sadly this came as no surprise. At one time I lived in the center of Boyertown and can vividly remember when once a month usually on Saturdays, KKK members would rally in broad daylight, albeit hidden under hoods, handing out pamphlets to passing motorists in the main intersection of town. That’s when Project Lemonade stepped in. Using a phone chain to alert members, Project Lemonade would spring into action when the Klan began their activities. For every minute the hate group would rally, Project Lemonade would counter-protest in order to solicit donations which in turn would be given to the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League and the SPLC or be used toward school programs and books that promoted diversity. This grass roots effort was successful in ridding downtown Boyertown of the Klan.
Unfortunately the didn't go far. As was noted earlier, the SPLC has identified 40 hate groups in PA. On their website is a resource called the Hate Map which pinpoints the groups in PA and throughout the country. Looking at the map, one sees that an affiliate of the Klan calling itself the Ku Klos Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is centered about 6 miles north of Boyertown in Bally, PA.
Other groups in PA that the SPLC has identified as hate groups fall into the following categories: general hate, white supremacy, black separatists, Holocaust deniers, radical traditional Catholicism, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT. Of all these, the Klan remains the most active.
In addition to the above-listed groups, in 2015 Pennsylvania was found to have the most anti-government groups in the country, including two militias. (Members of the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia were spotted in the crowd in Charlottesville. See Sean Kitchen's article in Raging Chicken Press.) SPCL doesn’t qualify anti-government groups as criminal, violent, or racist. The groups describe themselves as opposed to the “New World Order” and in general subscribe to unfounded conspiracy theories and extreme antigovernment doctrines.
It’s not a pretty picture we Pennsylvanians see when we look in the mirror. We need to remain vigilant and remind ourselves of our history. We need to take heart in how a small grassroots group of ordinary citizens with an innocuous name like Project Lemonade chased the bogeyman from their town. Governor Wolf said in his email, “I have a message for any white supremacist who thinks that they can make Pennsylvania a safe haven for bigotry and intolerance: you are not welcome here. You cannot intimidate us because the spirit of Pennsylvania will always win over hate.” I hope he’s right.
7 Charts that explain hate groups in the U.S.
If you're asking what you can do, take a look at a new publication from the SPLC: "Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide". The center describes it as "a blueprint for speaking up and organizing communities against hate while – most importantly – avoiding violent confrontations."
posted by Amy Levengood