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Hate crimes decline in Illinois, but hate groups remain

by Paige Sutherland
Feb 14, 2013


By Paige Sutherland/MEDILL


Data: Southern Poverty Law Center

The total number of hate groups in the U.S. from 2000 to 2011. There were 1,018 hate groups in 2011.

hate map

Courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center 2011

The number of hate groups in 2011 for each state in the U.S. There were 28 hate groups in Illinois.

Related Links

2011 Chicago Police Department Report on Hate Crimes

Hate crimes and race perceptions

  • There were 51 hate crimes recorded in Chicago  in 2011; 24 were based on racial discrimination
  • Of the 24 racial hate crimes, 20 were against African-Americans.
  • A 2010 Pew Research study showed that 58 percent of blacks thought there was too much negative news coverage of blacks, but only 31 percent of whites felt the same way.
  • A 2013 Pew study showed that 34 percent of whites said there were strong or very strong conflicts between races, while 54 percent of blacks said there were strong or very strong conflicts between races.
  • A 2009 Pew study said 43 percent of blacks thought there was "a lot" of discrimination against blacks, while only 13 percent of whites felt that way.

Hate crimes in Illinois have seen a steady decline over the past three years, according to FBI data. But that doesn’t mean hate groups have gone away, experts say.

There were 69 reported hate crimes in Illinois in 2011, according to FBI data released in December. That’s down from 94 in 2010 and 129 in 2009.

However, the number of hate groups in the U.S. has increased 69 percent since 2000 to a total of 1,018, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry. This surge has been fueled by the plummeting economy, the election of an African-American president and the influx of immigration, according to the center.

The center identifies 28 hate groups in Illinois.

Among the oldest of the active national hate groups is the Ku Klux Klan. In 2011 there were a reported 152 Klan groups in the country, 42 more than 2010. At least one branch is located in Illinois, according to a man calling himself Cole Thornton, the leader of one of the largest Klan organizations.

Thornton, 61, whose real name is Charles Denton, according to a 2011 Anti-Defamation League report, is a retired electrician living in Florida He was elected the Imperial Wizard of the United Northern and Southern Klan of the Ku Klux Klan in 2004. Ever since he has been trying to mute the rhetoric of Klan to attract more supporters.

“People make snap judgments of the Klan,” Thornton said. “You don’t hear about the ones that don’t break the law, because it isn’t newsworthy.”

Thornton claims his group disavows violence and portrays the group’s goals as white civil rights, rather than white supremacy.

“Since the 1960s our country has tried to blend the two cultures together but it has not worked,” he said. “God made the other race with their own separate traits and problems come when they start to intermingle.”

This rhetoric has been used as a party line, said David Schneier, investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago.

“They are trying to sell themselves by promoting white civil rights but it’s disingenuous. They are still anti-semitic and racist,” Schneier said.

Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Potok concurs.

“By attempting to clean up their language and image, the Klan is trying to put lipstick on a pig,” Potok said. “The Klan still has a racist core to their ideology.”

Despite the increase in the number of Klan groups in the past decade, demographic shifts mean the Klan will never recapture the white Christian America of the past they are hoping for, Potok said. By 2043, whites will no longer be a majority, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections. This demographic change petrifies Klansman and other hate groups, Potok said.

Potok estimates there are fewer than 6,000 Klansmen today.

The KKK, in particular, has adopted a more subtle form of racism to distract themselves from what is actually happening in today’s society, said assistant professor of sociology at Mississippi State, Matthew Hughey, an expert in race studies and racism.

“The KKK is trying to reclaim a past that never existed – a separate but equal community that never was,” he said.

Chicagoan Vernon Johnson knows how unequal that past was from family history.

In the 1930s Johnson’s great-grandfather Vernell Johnson was threatened by the Klan. Vernell Johnson, now deceased, owned a thriving general store in McComb, Miss.

The KKK came to his store one day demanding he close his doors or they would murder him and his family. Johnson and his friends barricaded their entire neighborhood. Ultimately the Klan left him alone.

“When I hear the KKK I think of that story, and I’m not gonna lie, it makes me very angry that my family had to live in fear,” said Johnson, who is a black youth advocate in the city.