09/26/2017 - Across the country and throughout the state, hate is on the rise. Nationally, there were 917 hate groups identified in 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), up from 892 the previous year. Those figures include an additional nine such groups operating in Michigan, bringing the state's number of hate groups to 28 in 2016.
Those figures are part of the SPLC's most recent Hate Map, which lists Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi, white supremacist, black separatist and other hate groups by name and location in each state.
The SPLC defines hate groups as any group that has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. The list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports. Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.
To be included in the list, each hate group must have participated in at least one hate group activity in 2016. That means some of the additional groups added to the list – which includes four KKK groups, three anti-Muslim and one black separatist group – may have been in existence prior to 2016 but inactive in terms of monitoring.
Between 2000 and 2016, the overall number of hate groups in Michigan rose from 14 to 28, with there being the most active groups in 2010 with 35 groups. That increase followed a national trend in the rise of hate groups since the turn of the century, driven in part by anger over Latino immigration and demographic projections showing that whites will no longer hold majority status in the country by about 2040.
"That rise accelerated in 2009, the year President (Barack) Obama took office, but declined after that, in part because large numbers of extremists were moving to the web and away from on-the-ground activities," the SPLC said. "In the last two years, in part due to a presidential campaign that flirted heavily with extremist ideas, the hate group count has risen again."
Included in the most recent rise are new numbers of "anti-Muslim," black separatist and some other groups while others have declined. For instance, the number of Neo-Nazi groups in Michigan dropped from 11 in 2007 to four in 2016, due in part to larger groups essentially absorbing some smaller ones. The numbers reflect the actual number of groups in the state, not necessarily the number of members of any one group or category.
Also, not all "groups" are actual groups, but may include a single individual, or a blog, website or business. For instance, NS Publications, based in Wyandotte, is listed by the SPLC as a Neo-Nazi hate group. The group is a website and online source of National Socialism materials available to purchase.
The SPLC also has expanded the number of categories included in its hate map, bringing in additional groups that may have already been active.
Deir Yassin Remembered was listed by the SPLC for the first time in 2016 as a Holocaust denial hate group active in Ann Arbor. However, Henry Herskovitz, an advisor on the group's board, said he has been picketing outside of Ann Arbor's Beth Israel Congregation for more than a dozen years, with another small local group he formed.
Formerly an attendee of the congregation, Herskovitz said he began weekly protests in front of the synagogue after its leaders refused to let him share his photos and views of Palestine with the community after a visit to the region. The group's name, Deir Yassin, is a reference to the former Palestinian Arab village where more than 100 people were massacred during the 1947-48 civil war.
Herskovitz rejects the label of Holocaust denier, instead calling himself and the group "revisionists" who question specifics of the Jewish Holocaust.
"None of the revisionists deny that there was widespread suffering in many communities. What they question is the so-called Final Solution that was meant to be ethnic cleansing and extermination," he said. "They (revisionists) claim there was no homicidal gas chambers used by the Third Reich, and there were far fewer than six million deaths."
Herskovitz said while he's never been a very religious person, he was raised in a very conservative Jewish home. He said he attended the Beth Israel Congregation for high holiday services from 1970 to 1985 because it brought back memories of his father.
"There's been so many claims about the Holocaust that have been proven false. ... But if these claims that I and many others were raised on are false, then it leads you to ask what else is false, and that leads you to almost question religion."
Earlier this year, Deir Yassin Remembered paid for a billboard near Whitmore Lake that stated, "America First Not Israel." Outfront Media later called the billboard an "attack ad" and declined to run additional spots, Herskovitz said. Still, he said he doesn't understand why the SPLC listed the group on the same map as the KKK and Neo-Nazis.
"The only thing we hate is mendacity; that's the whole thing that drives me," Herskovitz said. "I've been lied to my whole life. 'A land without a people (for a people without a land)' – what a crock."
Radical Right expert Mark Potok, a former senior fellow at the SPLC for 20 years prior to departing the center in March 2017 to work on independent projects, said violence or outright slurs alone aren't qualifiers for a group to land on the SPLC's Hate Map.
"There is no official arbiter, at the end of the day; it's a matter of opinion," Potok said. "For the SPLC's list, it's a group that espouses doctrines that attack whole groups of people based on a class of characteristics that are unchangeable. The bottom line is that it's strictly about ideology. Does a group in its writings and speeches of its leaders somehow say someone is less by virtue of their class characteristics? The basis is to understand that it's not about violence or criminality, and that may be controversial in some minds."
With several of the groups rejecting the "hate group" label and disavowing violent ideologies, those on the list share a common bond, with each claiming to be victims of political correctness whose freedom of speech has been oppressed. Defending that right has become a rallying call for many landing on the SPLC's map, with the latest battleground in Michigan.
A recent lawsuit filed by Clinton Township attorney Kyle Bristow against Michigan State University (MSU) claims the school violated the constitutional rights of a Georgia State University student trying to plan a speech by a prominent white nationalist. Michigan State University denied renting the student accomodations to allow Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, to speak. The university said the decision wasn't an attempt at censorship, but out of concern for the safety of its students.
Spencer is credited with coining the term "alt right" as a mainstream description of white nationalist ideology being spread throughout college campuses across the country. While not the organizer, he has been considered key to the Unite the Right rally in August that left one person dead and several injured in Charlottesville, Virginia at University of Virginia. The rally is considered by white supremacists and the groups that monitor them to be the largest gathering of Neo-Nazis, KKK members, skinheads and other white nationalist groups in recent history. Michigan State University cited violence at the rally as cause for denying Spencer accommodations in East Lansing.
"With the efforts on campuses, there's a huge hubbub about free speech, and five universities have refused Richard Spencer, and now one is being sued," Potok said. "These groups are quite cleverly using the battle as if it were some sophisticated discussion of free speech. I'm not arguing they shouldn't have free speech, but it's a cynical effort to make their voices louder than they already are."
Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas is listed by the SPLC as a white nationalist website based in Clinton Township. Founded in March 2016, its self-described mission is to "educate the public about the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and people who and organizations which strive to usurp said freedoms." Executive Director Kyle Bristow is the attorney who recently filed suit against MSU for denying a speaking engagement for white nationalist Richard Spencer, who is listed as one of the group's board members.
Bristow, who failed to return multiple requests for comment to Downtown newsmagazine, caught the attention of the SPLC while still an undergraduate student at MSU. He is also president of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) group and served on the student government council. The SPLC said Bristow was recalled after pushing an agenda to capture undocumented immigrants in the area and cut school funding for non-heterosexual groups. As head of the YAF, he planned a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day," a "Koran desecration contest" and led a "straight power" rally in front of Lansing City Hall where protesters held signs saying "End Faggotry" and "Go Back in the Closet."
In 2010, Bristow released "White Apocalypse," his self-published "semi-fictional" novel based on a claim that North America was settled by European whites 17,000 years ago, but systematically murdered 5,000 years later by dark-skinned "Amerindians." To expose the truth, the hero of the book – "a fiery lawyer" – battles in the courtroom and in the streets to squash the "Center for Diversity and Multiculturalism," which, like the SPLC, maintains an active legal staff and hate group list.
Potok said one of the book's characters, David Greenberg, is based on a version of himself. In the book, Greenberg is described as an "oily, curly haired troll" who works for the Center for Diversity and Multiculturalism before his assassination by the novel's hero. Laid out in graphic and bloody detail in the novel, the SPLC said Bristow denied the assassination description or that the victim are meant to represent Potok.
American Freedom Law Center is an Ann Arbor-based law office that bills itself as "the national's first truly authentic Judeo-Christian, public-interest law firm." It was listed by the SPLC as a hate group for the first time in 2016 under the "anti-Muslim" category.
"I'm a conservative Catholic and my colleague is an Orthodox Jew from New York. The very suggestion that we are a hate group is an absurdity," said Robert Muise, the firm's co-founder. "The Southern Poverty Law Center has a history of going after the KKK, but it has since taken a hard leftist view. They now go after anyone on the conservative right. They don't like our viewpoint. They don't like our politics, so they marginalize us and push us off to the fringe. All the SPLC does with their hard left, secular agenda is peddle lies about organizations such as mine, and many others on the list. It's an absolute absurdity what they are doing."
Muise, a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War, started a second career as an attorney in 2000. He joined New York attorney David Yerushalmi in 2012 to form the American Freedom Law Center. The SPLC specifically lists Yerushalmi as an anti-Muslim activist "who is a leading proponent of the idea that the United States is threatened by the imposition of Muslic religious law, known as "Shariah."
"For good or ill, the battle of America's soul is being waged in courtrooms across America, pressed forward by secular progressives and sharia-advocating Muslim Brotherhood interests," the firm states on its website.
In its legal work, the firm is involved in free speech cases involving pro-life advocates and freedom of religion issues, including those pushing for extreme vetting for Islamist Sharia ideology. In March, the firm filed a civil rights suit against the city of Sterling Heights on behalf of residents opposing the construction of a mosque in the city. The firm, according to the SPLC, has also pushed for anti-Shariah laws in legislatures across the country, arguing that America has unique values of liberty and freedom that don't exist in foreign legal systems.
Muise, frustrated by the hate group designation, said it's the SPLC who is the real hate group, a claim made by dozens of groups who have found themselves on the Hate Map.
"They are the ultimate of hate groups. They hate our message and they hate our Christian view and hate our Orthodox Jewish message," he asserted. "They are enemies of the First Amendment, and they are trying to shut us down by employing tactics like this.
"Why not add Al Queda, ISIS and all the other terrorist groups to their list... Guess what, it's the Muslims who are doing the global terrorism. Go on the FBI most wanted list right now. I'll tell you what, none of them are conservative Christians. One is a Black Liberation Party person, and one is an environmentalist. I don't see one conservative Christian on there."
Nationwide, the SPLC said there has been a 197-percent increase in anti-Muslim hate groups in the country from 2015 to 2016, and it has increased from just five in 2010 to 101 in 2016.
ACT For America is one of the largest organizations listed by the SPLC as an anti-Muslim hate group, with more than a quarter-million members and 1,000 chapters, including those in Detroit and Grand Rapids.
In 2008, ACT began a campaign called "Stop Shariah Now," which aimed to "inform and educate" the public about Shariah and how the group claims it's creeping into American society and "compromising our constitutional freedom of speech, press, religion and equality." ACT worked with Yerushalmi prior to his formation of the American Freedom Law Center to draft anti-Shariah legislation, which has been passed in a handful of states.
Founder and president of ACT for America, Brigette Gabriel, failed to respond to a request by Downtown newsmagazine for comment. Gabriel in the past has said the group was launched in response to the 9/11 attacks to educate officials on national security and defeating terrorism. In 2006, she released her book, "Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America." The SPLC describes the book a call to action based on the "truth" behind Islam that Gabriel says she learned as a child during the civil war in Lebanon, essentially claiming the religion is inherently violent and that true believers cannot assimilate to American culture and society.
Recently, Gabriel has attacked the "radical left" on the organization's website, stating: "The radical left is organized and dangerous. From violent mobs trying to silence freedom of speech at our universities, to liberal judges endangering all of us by blocking the president from vetting refugees, to the complicit media pushing an anti-America, anti-national security and pro-Islamic, politically correct agenda. The leftist Islamic coalition is waging war against the rule of law and against you and me."
Secure Michigan, based in New Baltimore, operates the website www.securemichigan.org, which brands itself a refugee resettlement monitor that is "monitoring the fundamental transformation of America." Listed by the SPLC as an anti-Muslim hate group, the site is a local offshoot of Maryland activist Ann Corcoran's blog, Refugee Resettlement Watch. A request for comment from the Michigan site didn't receive a response.
The Secure Michigan website's domain is registered to Gary Kubiak of Shelby Township, who is the director of the southeast Michigan Tea Party. Phone and email messages left for Kubiak weren't returned.
Content on the website includes an interview with "anti-Islamic whistleblower" Philip Haney by Troy resident Janice Daniels, who was recalled as that city's mayor in 2012 following anti-homosexual remarks she made to high school students.
Secure Michigan also posted a link to Cocoran's blog and a "Letter to Media" dated September 8, 2017, in which she and about 40 other representatives from SPLC-designated hate groups urge members of the media to ignore the SPLC and its "discredited" map.
"To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with Neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable, and represents the height of irresponsible journalism," the letter states. "All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC's descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices."
Ku Klos Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Battle Creek is a local chapter of the Klan's national headquarters in Lugoff, South Carolina. The group's national website lists Wade Keegan as the Exalted Cyclops in the Battle Creek/Ann Arbor area. The site also lists Keegan as the group's "National Kleagle," or the member responsible for recruiting new members. Requests for comment to Keegan weren't returned.
The group describes itself on its website as "white Christian patriots" representing a traditional white klan who believes in the teachings of Jesus, but is against homosexuals. "Therefore, we do not hate," the group states.
Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, listed by the SPLC in Trenton, is a southeast Michigan chapter of the national group headquartered in Pelham, North Carolina. The group claims to be a new KKK that rejects the hate label, instead claiming to be a non-violent, pro-white civil rights group. The group's website isn't functional.
Great Lakes Knights of the Ku Klux Klan operates a website and lists its mailing address in Alpena. On its website the group describes itself as "a militant order of White Aryan patriots dedicated to living by the '14 words." Coined by the leader of a white supremacist terrorist group who died in prison, the "14 words" phrase is a slogan adopted by the majority of white supremacist groups around the world, which states, "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children." The term, according to the Anti Defamation League, reflects the white supremacist worldview in the late 20th century and early 21st centuries that unless immediate action is taken, the white race is doomed to extinction by an alleged "rising tide of color" purportedly controlled and manipulated by Jews.
The Great Lakes group states on its website that it's a "brotherhood of politically motivated individuals" that welcomes both Christians and non-Christians and fully subscribes to National Socialism. Membership, the group states, is open to any "White Aryan individual who is proud of their heritage and ready to fight to preserve their race." However, the site stipulates that members must be 18 or older and of "sound moral character," specifically heterosexual, against race mixing and without "any type of record of sexual assault, animal abuse or other crimes deemed inexcusable."
Militant Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is listed by the SPLC in Alpena. A Twitter account for the national group describes itself as an action-oriented racial and political brotherhood that is inspired and motivated by the "heroic deeds and sublime beliefs of the original KKK." The group's website listed on the Twitter page is void of any content.
The last visible tweet by the group was made in November 2015, and states "it's a scientific fact that the white race is superior." Another tweet includes a photo of the Confederate flag with the words: "In 1861 we went to war over our rights. We have no problem doing it again. Remember that." Other tweets urge people to march at rallies, such as one protesting a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Stone Mountain, Georgia; and another promoting a march in Tupelo, Mississippi with the National Socialist Movement.
National Socialist Movement (NSM), headquartered in Detroit, is considered to be the largest and most prominent Neo-Nazi group in the United States. Once known for its theatrical protests with members wearing full Nazi SS uniforms and swastika badges, the group has rebranded itself in recent years. However, the underlying ideology is rooted in a white supremacist view that aims for a nation of "pure white bred" citizens excluding full rights to Jews, homosexuals and any racially mixed occupants.
Formerly the National Socialist American Workers Freedom Movement, leadership was passed to Jeff Schoep in 1994, who renamed it the National Socialist Movement. Going by the moniker "commander," Schoep expanded the group's membership by recruiting younger members and allowing members of other white supremacist groups to join. By 2009, the NSM had 61 chapters in 35 states.
"I think Detroit is a pinnacle in the movement," said Schoep, who said he moved a decade ago to the city. "With the economy crumbling and taking a big hit, Detroit has suffered a lot. Movements like ours tend to do well in areas like this because people are looking for answers, and they are tired of the Republican and Democrat stuff."
To broaden the group's appeal to new members, Schoep said the NSM stopped using the swastika and Nazi dress in its official dress – symbols he said that raised questions from potentials recruits about German heritage requirements.
"I don't care if people call us Nazis, but we aren't really," Schoep said. "It had a negative connotation for a long time, but it has lost some luster. I don't think it has the bite anymore that it used to. Now, people say if you voted for Donald Trump, you're a Nazi. It doesn't bother me, but I don't like it – we are white nationalists."
Setting aside specific labels, the NSM has networked with other white supremacist groups that don't necessarily subscribe to the National Socialist ideology. In April of 2016, the NSM and members of several KKK, racist skinhead and others groups met to form the Aryan National Alliance.
"The name changed to the Nationalist Front. We changed that in November last year to make it more inclusive. To make it more nationalist. That's something we came up with to bring the groups together," Schoep said. "In Charlottesville, we weren't organizers there, but we did participate. We brought in Nationalist Front groups for that as well."
Online, NSM maintains a comprehensive website featuring the group's newsletter, downloadable leaflets for printing and distribution and field reports from NSM chapters. In 2007, the group purchased "New Saxon," a white supremacist social networking site. The group also operates its own record label, NSM88 Records, which the SPLC has labeled as its own hate group.
For all the effort, Schoep said, the NSM and other white nationalist groups, as well as he himself, have been targeted by groups trying to censor their message, particularly since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. He noted the fate of "Stormfront," a leading white supremacist website that was forced off the world wide web by its commercial host. More recently, credit card companies blacklisted NSM and other white nationalists groups, making it impossible for them to conduct credit card transactions through their websites, Schoep said.
"I have been put on something called the 'match list' by MasterCard, meaning I am blacklisted from running any sort of business that accepts credit cards, so my business NSM88 Records can no longer accept credit cards. I do have mainstream businesses that also sells things, but nothing to do with white nationalism, and since my name is on the list, my other business is basically run into the ground," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of all our business is done through credit cards for both companies, and business is what I know, and what I do for a living, so they have now robbed me of my ability to make a living."
Schoep claims he and other white nationalists are the victims of "political persecution," and "racial profiling against white people who take an active political stand that certain people do not like or agree with."
"Like our politics or hate it, this is so evil and wrong on any and every level, and I'm not the only one affected by this, almost all of the other nationalist companies I know of in the USA, including newspaper publishers and book publishers have been hit with this same problem."
While the First Amendment protects even deeply offensive and hateful speech, the law only prohibits censorship by the government, said Professor Len Niehoff, a professor of First Amendment law at the University of Michigan Law School.
"Private individuals and entities censor things all the time," he said. "For example, a private employer is generally free to fire an employee for saying things on social media that embarrass the employer. A government has less latitude to do so.
"That's why private entities are free to decide they don't want to do business with neo-Fascists and similar organizations. GoDaddy is not a government entity and is free to refuse to continue a domain based on the speech there."
Gallows Tree Wotansvol Alliance, headquartered in Grand Rapids, is identified by SPLC as an active Neo-Nazi group with members in at least nine other states. Calling itself a religious tribe, the group uses the beliefs of Wotansvolk, a Nordic pagan religion founded in the 1990s in-part by white supremacist leader David Lane.
The group's leader, Mike Peterson, has denied in media reports that Neo-Nazi ideology is connected to the group, despite the use of a modified swastika in the group's symbol. Clarifying his remarks, Peterson said on the group's website that he embraced white supremacy during a nine-year prison sentence he served as a means for protection from other violent, racially-based gangs.
"People that have been to prison have a different set of experiences than what you have. We have met true evil and I have made it a life goal of mine to help people succeed back into society with my outreach efforts," he said. "This environment followed me out. It was ingrained in me. I had a few bumps trying to merge back into normal society. I carried with me a lot of racial and territorial type elements with me. They weighed on me as I tried to adapt to my new environment."
The American Nazi Party is a white power, Neo-Nazi group based in Westland. Claiming to be from the same party founded in 1960s that subscribed to the ideals and policies of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party, the party subscribes to the "14 Words" and the core belief in the "struggle for Aryan racial survival" and "social justice for white working class people."
Requests for comment to the group's leader, Rocky Suhayda, weren't returned. A longtime figure in the white supremacy movement known for his extreme rhetoric, Suhayda has said in the past he once represented a Livonia chapter of the KKK. He has also ran unsuccessful attempts for public office in that city's school district and city council.
White Rabbit Radio, is a website dedicated to "exposing white genocide," and operated by Timothy Murdock, of Dearborn Heights, who the SPLC said in 2013 is an "avowed anti-Semite" who lives in his parents' basement, where he says he cares for his terminally ill mother.
Murdock failed to respond to a request for comment for this article.
Murdock is the creator of "Horus the Avenger's Follow the White Rabbit, an online allegory patterned after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a cartoon he publishes on the website. The idea behind the "white genocide" proposition is that white people are being subjected to a genocide that will ultimately wipe out their race. The site also features a podcast and subscription service.
The Social Contract Press (TSCP) in Petoskey is identified by the SPLC as an anti-immigrant, white nationalist hate group for its routine publishing of race-baiting articles written by white nationalists. The SPLC said the group is a program of U.S. Inc., a foundation created by John Tanton, a principal ideologue of the nativist movement.
"The TSCP puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants," the SPLC said.
The White Boy Society, which the SPLC said operates throughout Michigan, describes itself on its webpage as a "white brotherhood aimed towards bikers." Characterized by the SPLC as a white nationalist hate group, the white boys state they are dedicated to uniting "brothers with similar beliefs and ideologies" but isn't a hate group or supremacy group.
"We do not want nor intend to rule supreme over any other race or culture," the group states on its website. "We know that if the white race is to survive, we must separate and rule over our own destiny."
Core to that goal, the group said, is the opposition of all outsourcing of American jobs, employers that hire illegal aliens to take American jobs and "all media that is detrimental to our children." Specifically, the group opposes any magazine, newspaper, television show, movie, radio program or website that "constantly shoves black culture down our throats and promotes race mixing with our white children."
The Northern Hammerskins, based in Detroit, is a regional chapter of the Hammerskin Nation racist skinhead group. Self-described as a "leaderless group" of men and women who have adopted the white power skinhead lifestyle, the Hammerskin Nation is considered one of the best organized racist skinhead groups in existence. The SPLC describes the Hammerskin Nation as the "most widely dispersed and most dangerous" Skinhead group known.
Hammerskins first emerged in the 1980s as the Dallas-based Confederate Hammerskins, then considered street gangs. Through its growth and the development of a national presence, the group formed additional chapters around the country, absorbing smaller skinhead groups along the way. The Northern Hammerskins chapter was created about 1988 when one of the former Confederate Hammerskin leaders moved to Detroit, eventually picking up locally established crews, such as Detroit Area Skin Heads (DASH), according to the Hammerskin Nation's website.
Now a dominant racist skinhead group in the country, Hammkerskin Nation and the Northern Hammerskin members are known for violent crimes both inside and out of the prison system.
Requests for comment through the group's national website weren't returned.
Yahweh's Truth in Linwood is categorized by the SPLC as a hate group led by minister James Wickstrom, which the center said "may be America's hardest-line preacher of the racist and anti-Semitic movement of Christian Identity." The movement's theology is based in the belief that the return of Jews to Israel is essential to the fulfillment of end-time prophecy.
Known for his violent, raging sermons calling for the extermination of Jews, Wickstrom is a former tool salesman who once protested the Vietnam War on grounds it was being fought for "Jew bankers," according to the SPLC. In the past, he has been a popular speaker at Neo-Nazi gatherings. Today, he broadcasts Yahweh's Truth, a weekly internet radio program.
"Thank you for writing, but I am not interested in any interview with you at any time, nor in the future," Wickstrom responded to Downtown newsmagazine's request for comment.
TC (Traverse City) Family, labeled by the SPLC as an anti-LGBT hate group, is a non-profit organization claiming to "defend family" in Traverse City and Northwest Michigan. The group's founder, Bill Wiesner, said he exposes the agenda of adult homosexualists who are promoting dangerous homosexual behavior to our K-12 children. As the sole operator of TC Family, Wiesner said he has handed out about 8,000 pamphlets on the dangers of the LGBT lifestyle.
"I'm mostly doing it on my own, he said. "I have given hand-outs at (city) commission meetings, school board meetings, human rights commission meetings, and I send them to the local press," he said. "I've been doing it on the street since about 2007. I've never harmed anyone. I've had my signs attacked three times."
Wiesner has been kicked out of several public meetings for sharing anti-LGBT comments. In April 2016, several Traverse City city commissioners walked of their own meeting while Wiesner spoke during the public comment portion.
Referencing his own experience and the writings of other anti-LBGT activists, Wiesner typically blends opinion and religion, along with what he considers facts on health and wellnes, to craft his message.
"I was part of the sexual revolution back in the 1960s and 70s, until I devoted my life to God in 1975," he said. "I lived through it, and I didn't find anything to me that was good about it."
Wiesner said his message isn't one of hate, rather it's about sharing "the truth."
"We don't hate, we love them enough to share the truth in love. It's not hateful to tell the truth," he said. "No matter how well-meaning a person is, those who say they are so-called 'allies,' they are not real allies if it's not based in truth."
The Nation of Islam, with chapters in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Benton Harbor, is designated by the SPLC as a Black Separatist hate group. Founded in 1930, the Nation of Islam is one the best known organized hate groups in black America, and subscribes to a theology of innate black superiority over whites and racist, anti-Semitic, anti-gay rhetoric, the SPLC said.
The Nation of Islam teaches that intermarriage or race mixing should be prohibited, a point specifically made on its official platform, published in 1965. The SPLC said the groups's leader, Louis Farrakhan, has been willing to tie himself to authoritarian and violent repressive foreign leaders for the sake of furthering black and Islamic administrators worldwide.
In general, the SPLC states that black separatists oppose integration and racial intermarriage, and desire separate institutions, or in some cases a separate nation, for blacks. While some forms of black separatism are strongly anti-white and anti-Semitic, not all are. Others are religious versions that assert that blacks are the "chosen people" of God.
The Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) is headquartered in Darby, Pennsylvania, with a local chapter in Detroit. The group holds the belief that American blacks are descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel, along with Hispanics and Native Americans. The SPLC categories the ISUPK as a black separatist hate group.
Captain Labon Yahawabah, with the Detroit chapter of the ISUPK, said the SPLC's designation as a hate group is about trying to silence the group's speech.
"Our message to black people is that it's time to wake up out of stupor," he said. "The message from (Martin Luther King, Jr.) was that if we just love, we would receive that back. We express that on how we support other nations, but we receive no love back."
Yahawabah said the ISUPK urges blacks to support blacks on philosophical and economic levels. He said supporting black-owned businesses in a majority-black city is one example of separation. Blacks also need to separate their religion from traditional Christian beliefs, which means separating black holidays from traditional American holidays, he said.
"From a religious point of view, America describes the devil as being a beast of the kind with horns, but the Bible says hell is captivity. Under that, the monster would do things that we've experienced in America – all the things the Bible describes as hell," he said. "So, when we say the white man is the devil, we mean he is the deceiver... they see that as hate speech."
Israel United In Christ, according to the SPLC, is national black separatist group with a chapter in Detroit. Founded in 2003, the group subscribes to a black Hebrew Israelite theology, similar to that of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, in that black Americans and Hispanics are the biblical 12 Tribes of the Nation of Israel. The group states disobedience to God's laws have been the root of all its members troubles, calling for racial, social and economic change based on separatism.
The Black Riders Liberation Party is headquartered in Los Angeles with a local group operating in Detroit. The SPLC designates the group as a black separatist hate group. The group was unable to be reached for an interview prior to the publication of this article.
The group's website describes the Black Riders Liberation Party (BRLP) as a "new generation of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense," with its roots in the California prison system. From the group's California-based website, the main focus of the BRLP has been "organizing to educate the masses of Afrikan people in this country and all throughout the diaspora, to stop beging this system for freedom and to just take it."
All Eyes on Egipt Bookstore has several bookstores across the country, including one in Detroit, which has been designated a black separatist hate group by the SPLC. The stores are operated by the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.
Nuwaubianism, the SPLC said, is best understood as a cult that promotes a bizarre and complicated 'theology.' In its description of Nuwaubians, the SPLC says the group mixes black supremacist ideas with worship of the Egyptians and their pyramids; a belief in UFOs and various conspiracies related to the Illuminati and the Bilderbergers; and the belief that Nuwaubianismnot isn't a theology, but a "factology," also called "Right Knowledge" and other names.
Founded in 1970, the SPLC states the group's leader, Dwight York, took advantage of his followers by sexually abusing their children and conning the adults out of their possessions. In 2004, York was sentenced to 135 years in prison for child molestation and other crimes.
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.
"We as a society have to look at what we are teaching our children. If they are being exposed to hate speech in our homes or among their peers, we are doing a great disservice to them," she said. "They will be working in diverse organizations with diverse team members. If we don't give them the tools to work with others who are different, it will hold them back, not just society."