A disturbing report released Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows an alarming rise in hate groups in America, fueled by racism towards the nation’s first African-American President, distrust of government and fanatical allegiance to outlandish conspiracy theories that range from U.S. government involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks to government plots to round up Americans and place them in concentration camps.

A report published on out sister web site, Capitol Hill Blue, also shows how the rise in so-called “grassroots” efforts like the tea party and the emergence of populist, anti-government candidates like Ron Paul contribute to this rise in hatred and distrust.

Hate is a cancer in out society, one that eats away at the souls of both people and society. It thrives on ignorance, fear and misinformation.  Sadly, I hear hate expressed almost every day, from anger in conversations over meals, to inflammatory spouted from the podiums of public comment periods at local meetings to incendiary emails that flow into my email in-box like digital diarrhea.

There has to be a better way to deal with the problems that face out society but I wonder if it is possible in a culture where radio talk show hosts call college students “sluts” for expressing an opinion at a congressional hearing, political opponents call Presidents “Nazis” and news broadcasts feature discord because it makes for a better sound bite.

I first saw hate as a 10-year-old in Farmville, Virginia, when the Prince Edward County board of supervisors closed the public schools rather than integrate and opened an all-white private school supported by the local government.  A friend whose daddy belonged to the Ku Klux Klan tipped me off on where the hate group met and I crawled on my hands and knees through the woods to snap a photo of the meeting and cross burning. The hate-filled bile spouted at that meeting haunted me for years.

As a recovering alcoholic I learned long ago that hate is all too often driven by self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy.  As someone who has been involved with the Internet since the early days, I know that technology now allows hate-driven misinformation to spread around the world like an epidemic.  As a journalist, I see hate used every day as a political tool to drive agendas and sway votes.

It would be too easy to hate those who hate but how can you hate those who are too blind to see and too uninformed to know?  How can you reach people with locked minds?  How do you open the eyes of those whose beliefs are molded through years of exposure to mind-numbing propaganda?

I with I knew.

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