Ask most Texans, and they’re likely to tell you that we are a friendly bunch. But, like most states, we have our share of bad apples. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based collection of civil rights lawyers and advocates, compiles a list of extremist and hate groups every year on its Hate Map, and this year, Texas ranks at no.2 in the nation with 62 active groups.
The Hate Map is compiled by the Intelligence Group, a branch of the SPLC that tracks extremist organizations. Heidi Beirich, Director of the Intelligence Group, told Texas Monthly that compiling such a list is a time consuming and mercurial process. Beirich said it takes five months for her organization to track and correspond with hate groups to determine their activity, and the annual turnover rate for such groups is high. “The ‘churn’ on the list is 40 percent,” said Beirich. “What may have been an active group last August isn’t here anymore.”
Even with that revolving door of hateful organizations coming and going, Texas is consistently high on the list. However, that is to be expected from such a big state, according to Beirich. “The number one thing that correlates with hate groups is population,” she said. “Every year, for years now, the states with the highest number of hate groups are California, Texas, and Florida.”
Sunny California, whose population was 37,253,956 in the 2010 census, tops the list with 82 active groups. Per-capita, this is a lower number of hate groups than in Texas, which has a population of 25,145,561. However, Florida, which is no.3 on the list with 59 hate groups, has a per capita rate that exceeds Texas when you crunch the numbers. There is one hate group for every 405,574 Texans compared with one hate group for every 318,666 Floridians.
However, none of these three states have the highest proportion of hate groups to population. “Often times South Carolina has the highest number of hate groups per capita,” said Beirich. “Mississippi has 33 hate groups and only around 3 million people, that’s a much higher density. Texas’s incidents of hate groups are wildly under that of Mississippi.”
The Houston Chronicle notes that Texas has about as many hate groups as Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana combined. However, Texas has approximately half the number of per-capita hate groups as all three states taken individually, which makes Texas seem like the friendliest state in our neck of the woods.
Numbers aside, who are these groups that make it on the map? “We don’t list any group that is just an angry guy with a computer,” said Beirich. “We look for evidence of a group functioning: Do they hold rallies? Demonstrations? Do they hand out flyers? Does law enforcement list them as active?”
The Texas Hate Map is largely populated with the usual suspects: divisions of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists groups, but the Southern Poverty Law Center also included chapters of the Nation of Islam, the New Black Panther Party, the Jewish Defense League, and some religious organizations. Some parties are incensed about being lumped into the same category as Nazis and Klansmen.
“We categorically deny and also we challenge being called an extremist group,” Quanell X, leader and national spokesman of the New Black Panther Nation told NEWSFIX. “We would like to have a sit-down, open dialog with them to determine if what you really believe about us is really the truth.”
The SPLC says that it does communicate with groups that it labels as hateful. Beirich went into detail about the criteria for inclusion on the Hate Map and their relationship with its offenders:
We look at groups on the basis of ideology; we’re not looking at groups because they’re violent. Does a group have a belief system that attacks or maligns an entire group of people? We sat down with representatives of the Nation of Islam a couple of year ago and said ‘if you stop bashing Jews—they accuse them of running the African slave trade, for example—and take these racists elements out of your theology then we will take you off the list, and they refused.
Some figures at the helm of religious organizations landed on the map. Episcopal Bishop Tom Brown of El Paso came to the attention of the SPLC when Brown led a successful ballot initiative in 2010 that ended health benefits for same-sex partners of public employees. Tom Brown Ministries, an offshoot of the Episcopal Church, was placed on the Hate Map due its anti-gay activities. Brown denies that his position is hateful. “I am strongly against the label of being a hate group,” Brown told Texas Monthly. Brown explains his position in this article cum sermon, which paints homosexuals as sinners in need of help and the SPLC as opportunists. “Their work in the past is commendable,” wrote Brown. “Now since race issues are not front and center as it once was, they have looked for a new hot-button issue.”
Beirich points out that the SPLC does not label any organization as hateful for their religious beliefs or even for public opposition to same-sex marriage. “It has nothing to do with Biblical interpretations,” said Beirich. “They are on the list because they lie to demonize the LGBT community to make them seem like lesser entities than the rest of us. In our opinion that is hateful.”
Extremely conservative religious organizations make up a small portion of the 62 hate groups listed in Texas. And that number itself is not so large when compared to the bulging population of the Lone Star State. Said Beirich: “I don’t find the 62 hate groups in Texas to be a crazy number.” While Texas may have a few crazies, our numbers are many, and most are more inclined to greet diversity with a friendly “Howdy!”