Remembering the Birmingham church bombing

Fifty-six years ago on September 15, 2019, four precious little girls were murdered in one of the most heinous acts of white supremacist terror of the civil rights era.

At 10:21 a.m. CT on September 15, 1963, the girls were in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, preparing for the “Youth Sunday” service. Addie Mae Collins and Carol Denise McNair were getting ready to sing in the choir. Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were going to be ushers.

One minute later, a dynamite bomb exploded. The girls were killed instantly, and more than 20 others were injured.

The Klansmen who planted the bomb wanted to terrorize the black community and their leaders, who had used the church as a meeting place, training ground and rallying point for the Birmingham Children’s Crusade and other direct actions.

Of course, the Klansmen were wrong about the impact. Perhaps more than any other event, the murders of the children while they attended church shamed the nation. Ten months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

And seven years after that, the Southern Poverty Law Center was born in large part to seek justice for those who had no champion and to enforce the Act in civil rights lawsuits.

Hate is nothing new. We’ve known this for centuries, and many of us have experienced it firsthand. But it is on a rise and we are seeing a surge of white nationalism and racist violence across the country.

The fear and resentment of our nation’s growing diversity is at the heart of the hate that’s swelling across America. We’ve seen it time and time again. In Charlottesville, Virginia. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In Poway, California. In El Paso, Texas.

We must reject those who continue to traffic in fear, hate and violence – and work together to bring in hope, equality and true justice.

– Southern Poverty Law Center
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

White supremacists and other hatemongers emboldened, energized in the Trump era

Southern Poverty Law Center

Most Americans no doubt recoiled at the sight of white supremacists marching under torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past August while chanting Nazi slogans and “Jews will not replace us.” The racist rally and the deadly violence in Charlottes-ville illustrated the growing strength of a white supremacist movement that has been emboldened by the xenophobic campaign and, now, the divisive presidency of Donald Trump.Trump, in fact, shocked the country by saying there were some “very fine people” among those marching that night. Since then, he has continued to stoke racial resentments, for example, using racially charged language when criticizing NFL players for protesting police brutality.

The fact is, through both his rhetoric and actions, Trump has energized and enabled a broad swath of far-right extremists, some of whom are now influencing policy in the Trump administration.

Over the past year, Southern Poverty Law Center investigators have been exposing the growing white supremacist movement — known as the “alt-right,” as well as the mounting political influence of the radical right in the Trump era. Our investigations are having an impact.

Following the rally in Charlottesville, we exposed how PayPal, one of the world’s largest payment processors, served as a critical tool for those orchestrating the event. Organizers and speakers relied heavily on the service, even though PayPal’s policy prohibits “the promotion of hate, violence, [and] racial intol-erance.” After we published our findings, the company dropped many of the accounts we cited.

In another report, we found that the flags and other symbols on display at the rally showed that the event succeeded in attracting an array of far-right groups, ranging from white nationalists to antigovernment “Patriot” groups and even groups frequently at odds with one another.

We have also exposed new racist groups that are being formed specifically to engage in street violence with anti-racist activists. One such group of young, white, pro-Trump men — the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK) — was organized last April, well before the violence erupted in Charlottesville. It describes itself as the “tactical defensive arm” of the Proud Boys, another group that shows up at pro-Trump demonstrations, looking to rumble with counterprotesters.

FOAK was formed by Kyle Chapman, who was earlier arrested during a clash in Berkeley, California, between antifascist protesters and pro-Trump demonstrators. “We don’t fear the fight,” Chapman says. “We are the fight.”

Even before Trump failed to denounce the white supremacists in Charlottesville — a move that won praise from former Ku Klux Klan chief David Duke, it was clear that the administration was taking its cues from the white nationalist movement. Trump’s executive orders on immigration, including a plan to publicize crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in so-called “sanctuary cities,” are straight out of the radical right’s playbook. They’re ideas and tactics promoted by Breitbart News Chairman Stephen Bannon, who served as Trump’s chief strategist until he was ousted this summer. Bannon once boasted about how Breitbart, under his watch, became “the platform for the alt-right.”

Serious questions about whether President Trump’s Justice Department will uphold laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination were raised in July when his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, gave a closed-door speech to an anti-LGBT hate group, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The ADF has supported the criminalization of homosexuality and is attempting to marginalize transgender students by warning public schools that policies intended to protect those vulnerable children will expose schools to legal liability. The ADF is leading the movement to redefine “religious liberty” as including the right to discriminate against other people.

Since his speech, Sessions has announced several anti-LGBT directives, for example, reversing an Obama administration policy protecting transgender people from discrimination in the workplace. Transgender people are among those most vulnerable to hate crimes.

For up-to-date reporting on activities of the alt-right and other far-right extremists to stoke violence and spread hate, go to

– edited from the SPLC Intelligence Report: Hate and Extremism in 2017
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Tall tales spread by Alex Jones breed dangerous plots

Southern Poverty Law Center
Intelligence Report, Spring 2017

On December 4, a 28-year-old North Carolina man bearing a handgun and a military-style rifle stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza joint called Comet Ping-Pong, determined to “self- investigate” rumors that the restaurant was the center of a child sex-slave ring with connections to the Clinton campaign. Edgar M. Welch, of Salisbury, N.C., who fired his weapon inside the restaurant but injured no one, later admitted “the intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.”

Earlier, in late October, two Georgia men were arrested in connection with an alleged domestic terror plot to travel nearly 3,500 miles to a former military research facility in Alaska that they believed manipulates the weather, controls minds and traps souls. Michael Mancil, 30, and James Dryden Jr., 22, both of Douglas, Ga., had amassed an arsenal — including AR-15 military-style assault rifles, four Glock handguns, a rifle and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, radios and flak jackets — that authorities say they planned to use to attack Alaska’s High- Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a large radio transmitter cited in numerous antigovernment conspiracy theories.

These two incidents, either of which could easily have ended in bloodshed, have one man in common: Internet personality Alex Jones, an influential and prolific conspiracy theorist who says the U.S. government was behind everything from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, including the massacres of schoolchildren at Columbine and Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon bombing. He also claims that “Hillary Clinton has personally murdered, chopped up and raped” children.

Jones, who has been spreading fake news and ginning up antigovernment hysteria for well over a decade, has recently gained new prominence through his connection to the Trump campaign. As a candidate, Donald Trump appeared on Jones’ show in December 2015, where he told Jones, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” Jones claims to have personally advised Trump in the run-up to the election, and also asserted that a grateful Trump called him after his victory and promised to appear on the show again.

That was before the fake news item known as “Pizzagate,” which was born on the Reddit and 4chan Internet forums and gained a dubious kind of credibility when Jones’ Infowars website began posting videos and articles pushing it, nearly ended in tragedy with Welch’s armed “investigation.” After an FBI complaint showed that Welch had been watching an Infowars “documentary” promoting the conspiracy theory, Jones scrubbed his site of most of its Pizzagate content in an apparent effort to distance himself from the fallout of this particularly toxic lie.

His contrition, if that’s what it is, apparently ends with Pizza-gate: Infowars still teems with grotesquely misleading headlines and conspiracy theories about a supposed Obama “scorched earth” policy and a coup allegedly being plotted by Democrats.

Jones is not alone. The market for fake news is crowded, and likely to get more so under the leadership of a president who said in December, “The whole age of [the] computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on,” and whose surrogate, “journalist” Scottie Nell Hughes, claimed, astonishingly, that “there are no such things, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”

Facts do, in fact, exist. But with social media platforms and search engines making only the feeblest of efforts to identify and marginalize false content, a president who is all too happy to exploit the fear uncertainty engenders, and conspiracists like Alex Jones continuing to propagate lies, reality seems likely to lose out.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)