In less than 24 hours after two Las Vegas police officers and a bystander were gunned down by two Neo-Nazi, anti-government spewing white supremacists, Stormfront's website blew up. There were nearly 200,000 threads and more than 2 million posts. This dwarfed the number of posts from all other topics on the site combined during that period.
Stormfront is the nation's premier, self-promoted, online meeting place where hundreds of neo-Nazi, anti-government, white supremacist groups and tens of thousands of individuals spew hate with aplomb. The site's writers lambaste blacks, Jews, gays, and are unabashed in praise of Hitler. They perennially exhort their readers and followers to arm themselves to the teeth against the imagined assault by the federal government on white people's rights. It was virtually a given that the murders would fire the horde of racists up, and ignite a frenzy of debate, speculation, denial and even veiled acquiescence to the murders.
Jerad and Amanda Miller, the alleged cop killers, were the sort of nut jobs who would be perfectly comfortable with the crowd on Stormfront. That's the same crowd that lustily cheered on anti-federal government rancher Cliven Bundy. We now know Bundy was the Miller's hero-patriot whom they were prepared to defend with guns blazing. Bundy was also the hero-patriot of the GOP and the Tea Party until he got into hot water for spewing anti-black slurs. The blunt truth is that the blatant cheerlead of Bundy, and the popularity of Stormfront as a nesting place for white supremacists amounts to a tacit license to kill to legions of hate fringed loose cannons such as the Millers.
In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks hate groups warned that Stormfront and other online hate racist hate forums as a virtual Murder INC. More than 100 persons in the last five years have been slain by those who post on its site. It's not known whether the Millers were one of those posters or readers, since most post anonymously. But that's less important than how the Millers and their like can make threats, bluster, and commit crimes to indulge their crazed fantasies and wage their looney war against their phantom minority group and federal government enemies. The Millers and Stormfront and the thousands of others that rant, rail, and spew hate in speeches, on websites, in videos and in their fringe, kooky publications are simply exercising their first amendment right; a right that can't be abridged no matter how scary they sound.
However, even when the Millers are known tracked, monitored and surveilled and worse commit hate acts, they often evade full punishment. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment, but rather muddled, confused, and outright lax enforcement and prosecution of hate acts. Even when the FBI and local law enforcement agencies ID them for their propensity for violence their hands are still tied.
Federal prosecutors are loath to step on the toes of police and prosecutors in criminal cases no matter how badly the crime is tainted by race, gender or religious hatred. Federal prosecutors flatly say that the hate perpetrators are more likely to be convicted and get stiff sentences in state court. That makes good legal and political sense.
Yet, that's not the only reason for their hands off of the Millers. Except in the highest profile cases, they see these prosecutions as no-win cases with little political gain, and the risk of making enemies of local police, DAs, and state officials. Hate crimes may be horrific but they are largely seen as common crimes and are treated as such. Few state prosecutors will chance inflaming racial passions and hatreds by slapping a hate crime tag on a case.
There's also the belief that hate crimes are mostly a thing of the past. When they do occur, they are isolated acts committed by a handful of quacks, and unreconstructed bigots, and that state authorities vigorously report and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.
When Congress passed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, it compelled the FBI to collect figures on hate violence. However, it did not compel police agencies to report them. Record keeping on hate crimes is still left up to the discretion of local police chiefs and city officials. Many police departments still refuse to report hate crimes, or to label crimes in which gays, Jews, and minorities are targeted because of race, religion, or sexual preference as hate crimes. Still other police departments don't bother compiling them because they regard hate crimes as a politically loaded minefield that can tarnish their image and create even more political friction. The official indifference by many police agencies to hate crimes prevents federal officials, even if they wanted to more aggressively enforce civil rights laws, from accurately gauging the magnitude of civil rights violence. The Millers' alleged slaying of two Las Vegas officers and a bystander will be treated as murder, without the hate attachment. This laxity is just enough space for the Millers of America to run loose.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.