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Hate Groups, Hate Mapping and Grand Rapids

August 31, 2017

Two weeks ago, WOOD TV 8 provided airtime for a West Michigan white supremacist group and then failed to adequately question them on their philosophy and practice. 

The WOOD TV 8 story cited the Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map, which listed the white supremacy group as one of three “hate groups” in the area.  The other two groups given the “hate” designation by the SPLC are Act for America and the Grand Rapids chapter of the Nation of Islam.

Act for America is a national group, but we could not find any solid evidence that the Grand Rapids chapter still exists. The hyperlink on the side-panel of the SPLC Hate Map is even a dead link. The only real piece of info we could find online about the GR chapter of Act for America is from 2008 and identifies Mark Lee as the contact person.

The third group, the Nation of Islam, hardly seems like it deserves the designation as a hate group. The Nation of Islam in Grand Rapids, like most chapters, has worship services, distributes the Nation newspaper, hosts study groups and also is involved in various charitable activities.  Whatever one thinks about the theological views of the Nation of islam, they have never engaged in acts of violence or terror against anybody in Grand Rapids to my knowledge. Therefore, the SPLC inclusion of the Nation of Islam in Grand Rapids on their hate map seems rather dangerous and problematic.

It is dangerous to include the Nation of Islam in Grand Rapids on the Hate Map because it could make them the target of state surveillance, state repression or white vigilante violence. It is problematic to have the Nation of Islam in Grand Rapids on the list, because there is simply no evidence that they promote or practice hate.

The Southern Poverty Law Center does not provide a very well thought out rational for what lands groups on the Hate Map. Here is what the SPLC says about the Hate Map:

Each of the three brief explanations for the Hate Map are vague and rather limiting. The focus of the Hate Map is on groups that also tend to not have a great deal of power and are often seen as extremist groups. In the above description of Hate Groups on the map it states that the list was compiled in part by “law enforcement reports.” Let’s stop right there. Think about the amount of harm that police officers, ICE agents, etc cause people, particularly communities of color. Think about the very function of cops, which neighborhoods they spend the majority of their time in, who they stop, who they harass and who they arrest, detain and deport. I don’t really care if we call it hate or not, the fact remains that the GRPD causes way more harm to people than does Act for American GR or the small group of white supremacists known as the Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance. This should not come as a surprise since they have one-third of the city’s budget at their disposal and they are better armed. So why isn’t the GRPD on the SPLC Hate Map?

But let’s not stop there. What about a group like the Acton Institute? Here is a group which promotes outright imperialism, white supremacy and Islamaphobia. The Acton Institute has nothing but contempt for the poor and promotes policies that dismantles any real safety net.  Hell, even one of their board members is part of an organization that is undermining progressive politics in Latin America

Then there are groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum, which has won tax breaks for the rich, passed a Right to Work law in Michigan, undermined public sector pensions and is in favor of redirecting more public money into private hands. Sounds like hate to me.

Grand Rapids is home to numerous churches, which are overtly anti-LGBTQ. The SPLC says that,hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people.” Seems like faith institutions, which are anti-LGBTQ fit this definition of hate.

Faith institutions also invest a ton of money into not allowing women to have control over their own reproduction. Many faith institutions also promote patriarchy and work to undermine many feminist gains that have been made in recent decades. How is this not hate?

Then there is the DeVos family and all their foundations. Each of their family foundations funds groups which promote taking away a public safety net and putting more public money into the private sector. The Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, along with other DeVos foundations have provided funding to anti-LGBT groups over the years. The DeVos family has even spent millions to defeat LGBT marriage equality in several states over the years. 

What about the Immigration Customs Enforcement officers in Grand Rapids. One of the main functions is to tear families apart, by arresting, detaining and deporting people simply because they are undocumented. Seems to me that entities that want to destroy families are engaged in hate.

What about all the development corporations and businesses that are gentrifying Grand Rapids at an outrageous pace? These developers are displacing families, destroying homes and existing neighborhoods, all in the name of making more money. How is this not hate?

In other words, one major problem with the Southern Poverty Law Center and its hate map is that is too narrowly defines hate and leaves out the organizations/groups that do the most harm in this community.

(Editor’s note: of course this map could contain a whole lot more groups that engage in hate and harm. We did not address ablism, anti-semitism, settler colonialism or a whole range of other forms of harm and hate that could be added. We invite others to add to this map and share it with others.)

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