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While there are more than two dozen designated hate groups operating in Michigan, the level of monitoring by law enforcement isn't released to the public, with the FBI's Detroit office declining to comment on investigation activity.
"The FBI investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups or adherence to particular ideologies or beliefs, but on criminal activity," said Timothy Wiley, public affairs officer for the FBI's office in Detroit. "The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual's race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or the exercise of the First Amendment or other Constitutional rights, and we remain committed to protecting those rights for all Americans."
Other groups, such as the SPLC and the Anti Defamation League, however, are able to gather information about hate groups in ways that law enforcement can't, said Heidi Budaj, regional director for the Anti Defamation League (ADL).
"Law enforcement is bound by certain laws, for instance they can't follow someone on social media or other online places unless they have a reason. We aren't bound by that," she said. "If we see someone is moving toward some kind of action, we inform law enforcement."
Budaj said they began following two young people in a Detroit-area chartrooms a couple of years ago who were following ISIS and were trying to join the terrorist group.
"They said if they couldn't join ISIS, they would bring ISIS here," she said. "At that point, we informed law enforcement and they brought them in."
Monitoring is just part of the work the ADL does, which is the largest nongovernmental trainer of law enforcement in the country. But Budaj said that just because a group isn't committing a crime doesn't mean citizens shouldn't be concerned.
People who espouse these kinds of ideologies – anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic beliefs – are more willing to use hate speech than we have seen in a long, long time," she said. "One of the things I do is take complaints. We used to get two or three calls a month that would be egregious enough for us to get involved. Now, we get two or three every day. And every day I say there is no way I could hear something worse than the day before, and I do."
With the increase of protected hate speech is an increase of hate group membership, with the groups taking more mainstream recruiting efforts in an attempt to appeal to socially isolated kids or those tired or white students tired of hearing about white privilege. However, rather than attempting to censor hate speech, Budaj said it should be countered with the type of speech that reminds people we are nation of immigrants....continued on page 16