Jewish Journal

Fighting Hate Groups

Gov. Davis to introduce legislation that would strengthen hate crime laws

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Mar. 2, 2000 at 7:00 pm

Gov. Gray Davis has proposed far-reaching legislation to combat hate groups, which, he said, pose a "very serious threat to public safety."

His omnibus bill would strengthen existing laws by expanding the definition of a hate crime, automatically lengthening by three years prison terms of convicted felons whose crimes were motivated by hatred, and extending the statute of limitations covering hate crimes from one to three years.

In addition, the bill would upgrade from a misdemeanor to a felony violations of an existing law prohibiting paramilitary organizations, of which there are some 60 in the state, to engage in weapons practice.

Davis' proposed changes are based on the recommendations of a blue-ribbon advisory panel, appointed in the wake of the alleged shooting spree last August by Bufford O. Furrow Jr., who has been charged with killing a Filipino-American mail carrier and the wounding of three children, a teenager and an adult at the North Valley Jewish Community Center.

The panel was chaired by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former Gov. George Deukmejian, and, said David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), worked in close consultation with his organization.

According to the panel's final report, there are now 36 hate groups in California, which "are involved in extensive recruitment directed primarily at young people."

In 1998, more than 1,800 hate crimes were reported in the state, 70 percent of them involving violence, against 2,136 victims. Of the 1,800 hate crimes, 226 were religion-motivated, the vast majority (176) directed against Jewish institutions and individuals.

ADL statistics for the same year, counting hate incidents in addition to hate crimes, showed 81 cases of vandalism against Jewish targets and 142 cases of harassment, for a total of 223, said Sue Stengel, Western States counsel for ADL.

One year earlier, the combined 1997 tally in the ADL survey came to only 180 cases of vandalism and harassment, but Lehrer is less concerned by the rise in numbers than by "the increasing virulence" of attacks by hate groups.

Davis, in his news conference at the Museum of Tolerance, noted that California was the "most diverse place on the planet," and that this very diversity tended to attract hate groups bent on "savage attacks."

One important, and evidently frustrating, problem cited by the panel report was the "unprecedented opportunity for hate groups to spread their message to young people" on the Internet.

According to the report, there are more than 1,000 Internet sites operated by hate groups and paramilitary outfits.

However, since expression of even the most abhorrent ideas are protected by the First Amendment, the panel called for Internet-access companies to regulate themselves and distribute information regarding computer filters that block hate sites.

Lehrer endorsed this approach and said that ADL has developed a "HateFilter" software program to block hate sites, which can be downloaded by accessing www.adl.org.

In a related development, ADL charged that Yahoo!, one of the nation's largest and most popular Internet companies, continues to host dozens of anti-Semitic and racist clubs.

By doing so, Yahoo! is violating its own service guidelines and "enabling haters to organize, attract recruits and disseminate offensive material," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director.

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