CAPA: Tracking Hate & Nativism

By Shachi Mokashi '21

 Image of Lecia Brooks from the Women and Gender Collaborative

Image of Lecia Brooks from the Women and Gender Collaborative

On March 8th, Bennington College joined Lecia Brooks, Outreach Director at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), to discuss hate groups in America and understand the concept of nativism. The talk, titled “Tracking Hate and Nativism,” is a part of the series on forced migration, displacement, and education.

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded by Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. in 1971 as an effort to fight hate crime, advocate for civil rights, and help members of vulnerable groups seek justice against grievances.

Lecia Brooks began her talk by outlining the history of the Civil Rights Movement in America. She took us back to August 28, 1963, to the March on Washington, where over 250,000 people participated to advocate for the civil rights and liberties of African Americans.  In 1964, the Civil Rights Act -- enacted on July 2 -- was a landmark legislation which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, and sex.

“We are seeing these rights under threat today,” Lecia Brooks stated, bringing us to the exponential increase in hate crimes and hate rhetoric in America. The graph below shows the number of active hate groups from 1999 to 2017. The number of hate groups increased to 954 in 2017, from 917 in 2016. According to the SPLC, “Within the white supremacist movement, neo-Nazi groups saw the greatest growth – soaring by 22 percent. Anti-Muslim groups rose for a third straight year.”

 Image from the Southern Poverty Law Center

Image from the Southern Poverty Law Center

Lecia Brooks highlighted how the nativist agenda of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign resonated with the far-right and the alt-right. Right after the 2016 presidential election, anti-immigrant rhetoric was the highest, closely followed by anti-black and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Where was this rhetoric primarily recorded? Lecia Brooks revealed that most  hate rhetoric was found in public spaces; in K-12, universities, and workplaces. This discussion reminded us of the “Unite the Right” rally, which happened on August 11, 2017 in Charlottesville and brought different alt-right groups together. Violent clashes ensued between the supporters of the rally and counter protesters -- at one point, a rally supporter drove a car into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing a civil rights activist.

After giving us examples of such rallies and other forms of hate rhetoric, Lecia Brooks highlighted the role of such groups on college campuses. There has been an increase in alt-right propaganda found on college campuses in the form of posters, amongst many other forms of media and communication. This point of the discussion led us to question what students are doing in response to finding forms of hate rhetoric on their campuses. Lecia Brooks encouraged us to look at the SPLC’s information booklets about bystander intervention and active education. If we see someone threatened by hate rhetoric -- in any form -- we must understand how to intervene and what steps to take after such an intervention.

Towards the end of the discussion, Lecia Brooks turned our attention to active ways of understanding systematic hate crime in America today. One of the biggest challenges that we, as college students, have in front of us is how to actively involve ourselves in the identity and race discourse of today’s world. Lecia Brooks suggested that our discussion with her should be one of the many ongoing dialogues about hate crime and civil rights.


This talk is a part of the ongoing Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education Speaker Series. The Consortium comprises Bennington, Bard, Sarah Lawrence, and Vassar Colleges.