The FBI's 2008 Hate Crimes Statistics: Open Season on Opponents of Illegal Immigration, But Not on Hispanics

By Stephen Steinlight on December 13, 2009

The FBI’s latest annual “Hate Crimes Statistics” (the 2008 report was released last month) is by general consensus an unscientific, even haphazard measure of the frequency of criminal offenses committed against persons or property motivated, to employ statutory parlance, “in whole or in part by bias.” The FBI cautions us about the unreliability of the figures in several prominent places in the accompanying narrative. However, this warning and the broadly shared critique does not prevent some media, the for-profit “tolerance” industry, political partisans, and representatives of a variety of special interests (including advocates for illegal aliens and “comprehensive immigration reform”) from using these subjective data to draw large, authoritative-sounding conclusions about bigotry, xenophobia, and nativism in America purportedly so pervasive and dangerous as to threaten its very social fabric. (Others, looking at the identical hodge-podge of figures might judge differently). Further, these figures are used as ammunition in policy debates to lend an air of moral urgency to the pursuit of partisan goals sought by putative victim groups.

The reason “Hate Crime Statistics” matters is not for its precision as a snapshot of bias incidents in the nation at any given time so much as the opportunity its publication affords a group of partisans to fulminate, rush to judgment, and vilify policy opponents. Of greatest interest by far are the reactions to the report and its politicization, which are a study in radical subjectivity and outright duplicity.

A Slippery Concept

An introductory caveat is in order: we’ll do no more here than note and beg a major question: whether the very concept of “hate crimes” and provision of more severe penalties for persons guilty of criminal offenses alleged to involve them represents a slippery slope leading to the endangerment of freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment. This caveat is particularly resonant at a time when a concerted campaign is underway to characterize groups and individuals as “haters” for exercising their constitutional right freely to express their views on public policy in the national debate on immigration. The line between speech and action is often perceived as so thin and permeable as to be, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. That opinion alone may be grounds for unconstitutional intrusion by government into First Amendment freedoms was adumbrated in the disturbing memo released in April 2009 by Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security which dealt, in part, with those strongly opposed to open-borders immigration or are, in the extremely curious logic and language of the memo, overly committed to maintaining the rule of law (“strident pro-enforcement fervor”).

Since the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) by Congress in 1990 (with subsequent amendments to include gays and the disabled among potential victim groups), the annual publication of “Hate Crimes Statistics,” which began in 1992, has evolved into a ritualized PR occasion for policy huckstering veiled as moral indignation; hurling accusations of demagoguery against political opponents by the “tolerance” industry; sanctimonious hand-wringing by politically correct clergy; histrionic displays of pain and anger by elite representatives of “aggrieved” groups; expressions of multicultural solidarity (though this empathy is not shared with the Jews targeted on religious grounds); as well as McCarthyism directed at their political opponents. This is the rule even when the data most pertinent to their political agendas are so scant and unpersuasive as to suggest these responses are little more than media spectacles characterized by opportunistic bombast.

When the findings are politically disappointing, that is to say insufficiently alarming with regard to the demographic to which they feel primary loyalty or on whose behalf they’re engaged in special pleading, it’s not uncommon for advocates to resort to the logical fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam, making an “argument to ignorance,” claiming something is true because it is not known to be false; one cannot, after all, refute what is unknown, and that in itself becomes proof of its existence. The most brazen exploitation of this logical fallacy is the reaction to the 2008 Hate Crimes Statistics by the president of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguia, necessitated by the disappointing findings regarding “hate crimes” committed on the basis of ethnic bias or national origin, the category in which “hate crimes” against Hispanics falls. According to the Hate Crime Statistics, 2008 witnessed an overall increase of 2 percent from 2007 in “hate crimes” amounting to a seven-year high, and what appears to be significant growth (characterized as a “surge” in several media accounts) in three categories – sexual orientation, religion, and race. The sole reduction in “hate crimes” were those motivated by ethnic bias/national origin, the category in which “hate crimes” against Hispanics are tabulated. In fact, the number of victims in a category in which Hispanics are allegedly the leading target, constituting, 64.6 percent, the number fell from the previous year, down from 1,007 in 2007 to 895 in 2008.

The now-standardized rationale Murguia offers for the purported “undercount” of the presumably innumerable hate crimes committed against Hispanics, echoed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and ad nauseam by many open-borders advocates, some mainstream media, and the kind of “advocacy academics” who work at “Centers for the Study of Hate and Extremism,” is the so-called “chilling effect.” This is the notion that Hispanics – for this purpose, that large, heterodox group suddenly metamorphoses into the narrower category of “undocumented workers” or “immigrants” – do not report their victimization because they are wary or fearful of law enforcement. This rationale has taken on the status of a sociological truth, but it is no more than an urban legend, unsupported by empirical evidence. The fictitious nature of the chilling effect and the lack of data supporting it are discussed by Vaughn and Edwards in “The 287(g) Program: Protecting Home Towns and Homeland.” They write:

One of the most common concerns voiced in opposition to 287(g) agreements, and to any form of cooperation between local LEAs and ICE, is that if local agencies become involved with immigration law enforcement, immigrants in their jurisdiction will become so intimidated and fearful of local authorities that they will refrain from reporting crimes or assisting with investigations, leaving these crimes unsolved, and the perpetrators unpunished. Known as the “chilling effect,” this theory is promoted by a number of national advocacy groups, including the Police Foundation, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The origins of the “chilling effect” theory are unclear, but hard evidence of the phenomenon is non-existent in crime statistics, social science research, or real-life law enforcement experience. National crime statistics show no pattern of differences in crime reporting rates by ethnicity, and the most reliable academic research available, based on surveys of immigrants, has found that when immigrants do not report crimes, they say it is because of language and cultural factors, not because of fear of law enforcement.

Moreover, the assumption that Hispanics form the largest percentage of those victimized on the basis of “ethnic identity” is highly questionable, and presupposes acceptance at face value of the report’s sloppy taxonomy. The Hate Crime Statistics system of classification is seriously flawed – so arbitrary, indeed, as to border on random. Classifying “hate crimes” and assigning groups into subcategories involves more sociological guesstimating than science – the absence of nuance making some guesses very likely mistaken – and there is significant potential crossover between and among categories. Jews, for example, are listed as a “religion” and crimes against them fall into the category “Religion.” This despite the fact that Jews themselves, according to the American Jewish Committee’s “Annual Survey of American-Jewish Opinion” regard “peoplehood,” cultural identity, as their primary self-definition. But why bother consulting Jewish opinion? What about anti-Semites? They hate Jews for all sorts of reasons besides religion: “all Jews are rich, greedy capitalists; all Jews are communists; they are Zionists and disloyal to America; they are sinister and clannish ethnics; they are Semites rather than Indo-Europeans, etc.” That is to say, Jews are a discernable sociological/cultural/ethnic group, no matter how contradictory the descriptors. Typically, the definitions of anti-Semites are far more inclusive than “religion,” and encompass a great many categories, including ones that appear on the Hate Crimes classification list. The most all-encompassing would surely be “Ethnicity/National Origins,” and for Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, Skinheads, La Voz de Aztlán, and their ilk, “Race.”

What the Recent Data Tells Us

The 2008 Hate Crime Statistics report shows the largest increase in attacks motivated by bias was on the basis of sexual orientation – an 11 percent increase from last year – with religion coming second with an 8 percent jump – 66.1 percent of the total of 1,519 incidents being perpetrated against Jews. That adds up to 1,004 attacks against Jewish persons and property, as opposed to 791 attacks on Hispanics. Some of the attacks on Jews undoubtedly took place specifically on the basis of religion, but it is hard to believe it is more than a fraction. If we were to disaggregate those targeted for reasons of religion from those targeted on the basis of presumed shared characteristics (culture/ethnicity), certainly the larger group, “hate crimes” against Jews and Hispanics on the basis of ethnicity would be approximately equal in number.

Those that fret about American Islamophobia take note: only 7.5 percent of “hate crimes” motivated by religion were committed against Muslims: a total of 129 incidents. The low number is not for want of Muslim organizations trying to obtain a larger one. Virtually on a daily basis, the website of the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the leading Islamic/Islamist organization in the United States, alleges numerous “hate crimes” are committed against Muslims. It should also be noted that while persons victimized because of race increased by a smaller margin, 3 percent, in terms of total “hate crimes” African Americans were in first place. Some 4,956 reported cases of “hate crimes” were committed on the basis of race, the highest of any category, with 69.3 percent of the total directed against African Americans, adding up to 3,434 victims.

Thus, despite the continuous drumbeat of indignation among Hispanic leadership cadres, supporters of multiculturalism, “civil rights” leaders, some left-liberals, and mainstream media about purportedly rampant anti-Hispanic attitudes, nativism, and xenophobia, it is American blacks, gays, and Jews have a greater possibility of being victims of “hate crimes” than Hispanics. The comparison with Jewish Americans is especially telling given the huge difference in the size of the two communities. Whereas the Jewish-American population is approximately 5.8 million, the Hispanic population is approximately 47 million; yet the 2008 report suggests an individual American Jew is more likely to be the victim of a “hate crime” on an absolute basis than a Hispanic, let alone on a percentage one.

Problems with the Data

Trends in hate crimes are impossible to track due to the fluctuating number of law enforcement agencies participating in any given year. More sophisticated analyses of the data are similarly impossible for a totally different, and, indeed, more embarrassing reason: the federal government provides no uniform criterion for law enforcement agencies as to what constitutes a “hate crime,” permitting enormous room for subjective interpretation. Until this changes, we will forever be comparing apples and oranges, or fish and bicycles.

Yet even with these impediments to fully credible findings and advanced research, the 2008 figures are not entirely worthless. Though budgetary constraints prevent many jurisdictions from compiling records of “hate crimes,” a great many law enforcement agencies participate, and the number has grown very substantially since the first “Hate Crime Statistics” report was published in 1992. At that time 6,200 law enforcement agencies participated, whereas 13,690 participated in the collection of data for 2008. In the report’s section titled “Participation” we are told the law enforcement agencies that participated in compiling the report for 2008 represent over 269 million inhabitants, or 88.6 percent of the nation’s population, and their jurisdictions cover 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Thus, though the data are incomplete and admittedly lacking in nuance, its cumulative heft gives it some authority. The report for 2008 strongly indicates it is very far from open-season on Hispanics in America, whatever their immigration status, despite an incessant high-decibel level campaign to create that impression. On the contrary – and undoubtedly to the dismay of open-borders elites – the news about bias directed at Hispanics is good; things are getting better all the time. As other have noted, when the exponential growth of the Hispanic population is taken into account, the fact that police interest in “hate crimes” means more will likely be reported (though not necessarily committed), we note on a percentage basis “hate crimes” against Hispanics have fallen steadily and sharply over the past decade, with the absolute number being remarkably low.

Creating an Illusion

Other Americans have been victimized with greater frequency, even groups with far smaller populations. The data suggest that the tsunami of anti-Hispanic mania is a fiction, a chimera invented and ruthlessly exploited to make the case for amnesty and “comprehensive immigration reform.” It is an attempt to create an illusion of mass victimization to make legalization appear to be a moral imperative.

That deep-seated socio-political predilections and presuppositions can emerge unscathed from an encounter with reality is documented in the response to the publication of the 2008 statistics by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) in “Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009.”

The statistics for 2008 show a reduction in attacks on Hispanics; LCCR not only denies it, but virtually the entirety of its executive summary is devoted to hate crimes against Hispanics and immigrants (with a passing genuflection to attacks on gays), as though it were the big story in the report. The LCCR, too, predicates its analysis on an argument to ignorance based on the fictitious “chilling effect).”

The LCCR portrays American society awash in anti-Hispanic hatred and anti-immigrant hysteria. But this bigotry and xenophobia are not spontaneous. LCCR’s response inveighs at length against the evil cabal that has masterminded this campaign: the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Such talk radio programs as The Savage Nation and former CNN anchorman Lou Dobbs are merely mouthpieces carrying the “inflammatory anti-immigrant messages of these groups.” All of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that opposition to “comprehensive immigration reform” is not merely a mistaken policy preference but is, by definition, a form of hatred. Those who foment it employ inflammatory rhetoric calculated to lead to hate crimes. In trying to make this case, the LCCR report's summary cites the notorious memo from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security of April 2009 released by Secretary Napolitano (its publication was opposed by DHS’s legal staff as an attack on the First Amendment) that characterizes “anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor” as having “the potential to turn violent.”

The paranoid style and extravagant rhetorical tone of the executive summary can only be conveyed through direct quotation:

The marked increase in hate violence against Hispanics correlates closely with the increasingly heated debate over Comprehensive Immigration Reform and an escalation in the level of anti-immigrant vitriol on radio, television, and the Internet. Warned an April 2009 assessment from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), "in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent." As inflammatory rhetoric targets immigrants at the same time that the number of hate crimes against Hispanics and others perceived to be immigrants steadily increases, a heightened sense of fear has gripped Hispanic and other minority communities around the country.

In one of the most disturbing developments of recent years, some groups opposing immigration reform, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA, have inflamed the immigration debate by invoking the dehumanizing, racist stereotypes and bigotry of hate groups. While these seemingly "legitimate" advocates against illegal immigration are frequently quoted in the mainstream media, have been called to testify before Congress, and often hold meetings with lawmakers and other public figures, their virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric veers dangerously close to — and too often crosses the line beyond — civil discourse over contentious immigration policy issues.

The inflammatory anti-immigrant messages of these groups have successfully infiltrated mainstream media, including shrill anti-Immigration reform commentaries from high profile national media personalities such as CNN's Lou Dobbs and Talk Show Network's The Savage Nation host Michael Savage. The unintended consequence of "media celebrities" vilifying immigrants as "invaders" who poison our communities with disease and criminality has been — and will continue to be — an atmosphere in which some people will act on these demonizing screeds — violently targeting immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants.

A Far Different Reality

Far from LCCR’s toxic image of America as a country simmering with xenophobic hatred due to high unemployment and the apochryphal machinations of think tank haters and White Supremacists channeling the frustrations of the masses, what we see is a nation weathering harsh economic times and exhibiting remarkably little in the way of individual or organized bigotry seeking scapegoats. In the face of mass economic dislocation and immigration on the scale of a population transfer, America remains a uniquely tolerant nation. Unless, of course, to believe that massive immigration during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression makes one a “hater.” It is LCCR, along with the National Council of La Raza, the Southern Poverty Law Center, America’s Voice, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and their fellow travelers who repeat Big Lies and dehumanize their opponents, knowing the incessant repetition of lies will ultimately establish them as truth in the minds of gullible followers, while the dehumanization of opponents give moral license to the aggrieved to pursue their imaginary oppressors – by “any means necessary.”

Certainly LCCR’s “Confronting the New Faces of Hate” is not primarily a reaction to the 2008 hate crimes statistics; that document is not grist to their mill. It is merely a convenient point of departure for the inauguration of its own campaign aimed at America’s real enemies, the cabal of organizations that oppose open-borders immigration. The executive summary makes three recommendations, but pride of place is given to “Set the Tone for a Civil National Discourse on Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” The high-flown rhetoric about civility is a transparent ruse that doesn’t conceal its very uncivil purpose: the attempt to marginalize, censure, censor, and silence CIS, NumbersUSA, and FAIR. It calls upon “government, media, business, labor, religion, and education” to “moderate the rhetoric in the immigration debate…and speak out against efforts to demonize immigrants.”

But how to increase what LCCR has the effrontery to denominate “civility?” How to go about assaulting the freedom of expression of civically engaged, public-spirited Americans that is implicit in its attack on the “seemingly legitimate advocates against illegal immigration.”? The LCCR believes representatives of CIS, NumbersUSA and FAIR should be excluded from testifying before Congress; the press should not speak to or quote them; lawmakers and opinion leaders should shun them.

Sins of Omission

The campaign to vilify, silence, or intimidate mainstream voices who oppose “comprehensive immigration reform” is designed to muzzle the national debate the nation desperately requires on immigration policy, denying participation to those who speak for the vox populi. We opponents of “comprehensive immigration reform” are those who voice the views of the great majority of the American people – whom our opponents fear and despise. Those guilty of the sin of commission, who would hijack American democracy by strangling public debate, are few in number and belong to a handful of small elite organizations. Alone they could achieve nothing: their success demands that others commit the sin of omission. The present danger, as has been the case so many times in the past, is the silence of the many. The Big Lies of the National Council of La Raza, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and their fellow travelers are rarely convincing. But nearly as effective, their repetition causes some, often in positions of community leadership, to entertain the possibility they might be right: that we who oppose open-borders immigration do so out of bigotry.

In many cases – I speak from personal experience – the accusation by itself is sufficient. Those too lazy or indifferent to investigate or who are prepared to sacrifice truth to political expediency accept ugly, utterly preposterous allegations as proven verdicts. When the SPLC and HIAS basely and falsely accused CIS and me of being White Supremacists (!) because they fear our ability to change minds and hearts within the American Jewish community, several mainstream Jewish organizations immediately blacklisted me – instead of protesting the outrage. Hadassah’s legal department forbade its chapters from inviting me. At no point did anyone at Hadassah’s national office ask me for my version of events or what might have motivated the libel. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also immediately defamed me – without making any effort to ascertain the truth. Hadassah’s blacklisting was painful, but I regard it as a badge of honor to have been defamed by the ADL, an organization that disgraced Holocaust survivors and every Jew alive when it sought to deny the Armenian Genocide to curry favor with Turkey.

What the SPLC and HIAS undertook and got away with was slander. It is painful and inexplicable to me that many Jewish organizations, institutions, and individuals have silently acquiesced in their crime. When God gave the ancient Israelites the two Tablets of the Law, the foundation of all human justice, the commandment “You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor” was inscribed in the stone, along with the prohibition against committing murder. To bear false witness, to slander, is to murder a person’s good name, to seek – maliciously – to destroy their reputation. The attempt itself is a sin and a crime. But the attempt can only succeed if good people do nothing. Silence in the face of this sin has go on for too long. It is time for the good people to stop being complicit in others’ evil. Freedom of expression hangs in the balance; so does simple decency.