Ted Simons: According to the southern poverty law center, the number of militias and like-minded groups increased 244% in 2009. One of those groups, the Hutaree militia, recently made headlines when it was raided because of its plans to kill law enforcement officers. In the city of Phoenix, hate crimes were up 30% last year. Even so, the city's career criminal unit, which does undercover work among hate groups, is being disbanded due to budget cuts here to talk about hate crimes is Bill Straus, of the regional director of the anti-defamation league. Good to see you.
Bill Straus: Always a pleasure.
Bill Straus: Let me correct you, I got a phone call that it's not being disbanded.
Ted Simons: It's not?
Bill Straus: This is a result of the community organizations. The record is unbelievable in a two-year period and focused on the people we're talking about here tonight. Career criminals, repeat offenders, violent criminals and with a propensity to attack racial ethic and religious groups.
Ted Simons: One incident where public outcry and concern made a difference?
Bill Straus: I think it did, yeah.
Ted Simons: Before we go further, I want you to define terms here. I think people get these confused. You've got hate groups and -- are they all under one umbrella?
Bill Straus: They're all the same species but different breeds. We define hate groups than southern poverty law center. And we're not so quick to give numbers. I remember their numbers, there are 19 active hate groups in Arizona. There are probably more. There are probably some that the southern poverty law center and ADL are not aware of. You don't have to be a group to represent a threat. An individual, as we saw in the case of Timothy McVey, represents a bigger threat today than armies used to represent. That's one thing. But let's talk about the terms. Hate crimes. Hate crime is a crime. It's not the thought police. It's a criminal activity. Motivated in whole or part by the victims belonging to one of the protected categories. Race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability. This is in Arizona. Sexual orientation. The federal hate crime law was expanded. It did not include sexual orientation or identity.
Ted Simons: What fuels these individuals and fuels these groups?
Bill Straus: We could be here for hours talking about this. They're fueled by affirmation from like-thinking individuals. They're definitely fueled by people in the media, that espouse viewpoints that seem to affirm what they've always believed and they're also fueled by incidents and event, news events, that tend to confirm what they've been saying all along. Example, Bernie Madoff, swindled so many people out of so much money. I mean, it's going to be a famous crime for as long as we're alive. Fact he was Jewish was jumped upon by every antisemitic group we monitor. Bernie Madoff was their poster boy. Until just recently. He was on the front page of every website and the message was -- we told you. Bernie Madoff. The conclusion being that Bernie Madoff is Jewish and all Jews will swindle you out of your money.
Ted Simons: Let's go back to the 1990s, the last time we were talking about these things was in the 1909, a rough decade for domestic extremist groups.
Bill Straus: We saw things building up. Here in Arizona, the viper militia was at the zenith. You were in the media then and you remember the media went hook, line and sinker for this being a major blockbuster story. It turned out not to be. Not much of a story. But Timothy McVey and Oklahoma city, really did signal the decline of the militia movement. People saw this is a dead end rode. These militia tend to be paramilitary. Not every hate group is paramilitary. But one of the things that these groups -- that fuels them is what they perceive as a government out to get them. Out to do them in. Out to ruin the tradition of what this country has always stood for and that's how Barack Obama is being portrayed. Not justifiably to these groups and people not in hate groups and on the fringe of mainstream and extreme.
Ted Simons: And those people, comparing back to the 1990s, you didn't have the blogosphere and TV talk shows and these things. Certainly, the speed and the ability of these kinds of messages and -- we have free speech but you also have folks who hear it and go off on a tangent. None of that seems to be as quick and powerful as it is right now.
Bill Straus: That's a tremendous point and what's really sinister, is hate crimes send a message. Every hate crime, it's the only kind of crime that sends a message to groups. First, you're different and we don't want you here. Get out. And the third layer is get out or else. That message is now communicated so quickly. When there's a hate crime against -- let's use the Sikh community around the world -- the Sikh community knew about that. And I was in communication with every community. And we --
Ted Simons:There's Straus again, he's confusing dissent with extremism and the idea that you hear the dissent and you will, A, necessarily means B. You'll go out and commit violence.
Bill Straus: I'm a dissenter, you are. I know that. Dissent is an American pastime. Criticizing the president and the administration in power is what we do in this country. I'm 61 years old, I don't ever remember an administration that went out that kind of ongoing, harsh criticism. That's different from trying to convince your friends and neighbors and family they're going to be put in concentration camps for dissenting political opinions. Or they don't remain somehow detached from government access and that's what we hear all the time now. When I talk to people -- I've got friends with lots of guns and I ask them, why do you have so many? I can't believe how many give me the answer: For when the government comes to get me.
Ted Simons: We're going to stop right there.
Bill Straus: What if I overpower you?
Ted Simons: We'll handle it in our own special way. Trust me.
Bill Straus: I do trust you.