Upcoming SPLC on Campus Webinars!

SPLC on Campus is continuing our webinar series in the month of October, with two new webinars. Here’s the schedule:

Wednesday, October 11 (1pm CT): Outreach and Organizing – Shay will lead this webinar, which will detail best practices for both general outreach and organizing on your campus and in your community. Participate in this upcoming webinar by registering here.

Wednesday, October 25 (1pm CT): General Q & A – Daniel will lead this webinar, which is designed to answer all your questions, big or small! We’ll be taking past questions and submissions as well. 

This schedule will be updated with any changes and links for registration.

Join us!

RESPONSE: On the So-Called "PC Culture"

Jonah Dratfield’s recent opinion piece in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian questions the idea that what he calls “PC culture” is consistent with liberal values. Modern American liberalism has certainly been focused on social issues such as reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial justice in the most recent election cycles, but the ideology has also been identified with goals of civil liberties, equality, and social justice more generally. Dratfield readily states that “protection of basic human rights” is the defining liberal value, but he appears to misunderstand what it means to be “politically correct”; that is to say, he pushes the recurring idea that liberals and young progressives have taken political correctness too far and seek to censor those whose ideas are different or challenging. This perspective scares up images of students in safe spaces with their fingers in their ears, rejecting criticism or violently lashing out against people with different values.

I couldn’t disagree more.

In my view, what has been called “PC culture” is a backlash from those with privilege who are being called out or facing consequences for racism, hate speech, cultural appropriation, and exclusion. These issues come to the forefront on college campuses, where many young students face diverse communities for the first time. As the United States becomes less white and less dominated by European cultural norms and values, many activists, academics, and students have taken the lead in finding new ways of discussing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the ways that systematic oppression pervades all corners of our society. It’s a broad conversation that needs to happen everywhere, and that conversation involves new language that is not historically oppressive.

SPLC on Campus, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s program for college students, empowers student activists to discuss such issues on their campuses and work for social justice in their communities. There is currently no SPLC on Campus club at UMass (Dratfield erroneously states otherwise, linking instead to the UMass Amherst Community Campaign, where UMass faculty and staff, in support of #UMassCares, can donate to the nonprofit of their choice). We do, however, have about 50 SPLC on Campus clubs around the country that are dedicated to student activism, voting rights, and speaking out against hate on campus.

Dratfield himself says that “criticizing what one views as unethical is not only a right, it is a civic responsibility.” The government and publically-funded colleges cannot infringe on one’s freedom of speech, but that does not mean that extremists and people using hate speech are above criticism or face no consequences. It is unethical and wrong for those with privilege to use violent and oppressive rhetoric to keep historically marginalized communities down, and it is wrong for them to keep silent in the face of oppression. As long as communities worldwide suffer the ongoing results of European colonialism, communities remain segregated, black and brown people in the United States are disproportionately targeted by an unfair criminal justice system, and trans people are victims of violence, there will be a need for liberals and others to have a way to discuss these oppressive systems and also a way to speak out against them.

Upcoming: National Voter Registration Day, September 26th!


It’s been a little over four years since the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which for decades has upheld voting rights in the name of protecting Americans from racial discrimination. One of the primary results of this ruling was that states had far more power to enact voting restrictions without any federal oversight or any thought to their past history of voter suppression. As the passage of voter ID laws, restricted polling hours, and the number of closures of state DMVs that issued voter IDs have all been on the rise, it is extremely important that we come together and work so that friends, fellow students, and neighbors can get registered to vote.

Focusing on voting as essential to our democracy, National Voter Registration Day was first observed in 2012 and has only gotten more popular over the years. On Tuesday, September 26th, volunteers and organizations all over the country will be hosting events or going out as individuals to register people to vote. Last year over 750,000 new voters were registered as a result of National Voter Registration Day, and SPLC on Campus has again signed on as an official partner for this year’s event.

Go to their website to look for a National Voter Registration Day event near you, and don’t forget to register here for our upcoming webinar, “The How-To’s of Voter Registration,” which will be held on Wednesday, September 20th!

SPLC on Campus is going to UC Berkeley!

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Last month, it was announced that Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter, and Milo Yiannopoulos will be coming to the University of California at Berkeley for a planned "Free Speech Week" from September 24-27.

Ahead of the week's events, SPLC on Campus has been working with Berkeley's Gender Equity Resource Center and has planned an event named for our guide to the Alt-Right movement, "The Alt-Right on Campus: What Students Need to Know." The event will be held in Berkeley's Multicultural Center at 6pm on September 19th, and the speaker will be Ryan Lenz, Senior Investigative Reporter with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. Lenz will share information on an orchestrated campaign by white nationalists to make college campuses their battleground and how students can effectively respond.

For more information, check out the event's Facebook event here.

Check out this week's SPLC on Campus webinars

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in our two webinars this week, “The Alt-Right on Campus” and “Starting an SPLC on Campus Club.” If you were unable to take part, we have them available for you.

“The Alt-Right on Campus”— our first webinar was led by Shay and details the lead figures of the alt-right, as well as how to respond on your campus. This webinar is available to view by registering here.

“Starting an SPLC on Campus Club”— this webinar was led by Daniel and focuses on how to become an official club, how to recruit members, and how to become an effective force for change on campus. This webinar is available to view by registering here.

Look out for our next webinar, “The How-To’s of Voter Registration,” Wednesday, September 20th, at 1pm CT.

President Trump's DACA Statement, Annotated.

Yesterday, the Trump administration announced that it will be rescinding the DACA program, which has protected 800,000 young adults from deportation. President Trump released a statement defending this heartless, inhumane decision. For accuracy and context, the SPLC has annotated the president's statement below.

"As President, my highest duty is to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America. At the same time, I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws[1]

"The legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws [2]

– this is the bedrock of our Constitutional system, which I took a solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend. [3]

"In June of 2012, President Obama bypassed Congress to give work permits, social security numbers, and federal benefits [4] to approximately 800,000 illegal immigrants currently between the ages of 15 and 36. The typical recipients of this executive amnesty, known as DACA, are in their twenties. Legislation offering these same benefits had been introduced in Congress on numerous occasions and rejected each time. [5]

"In referencing the idea of creating new immigration rules unilaterally, President Obama admitted that 'I can’t just do these things by myself' – and yet that is exactly what he did, making an end-run around Congress and violating the core tenets that sustain our Republic. [6]

"Officials from 10 States [7] are suing over the program , requiring my Administration to make a decision regarding its legality. [8] The Attorney General of the United States, the Attorneys General of many states, and virtually all other top legal experts [9] have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court.

"There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will. [10]

"The temporary implementation of DACA by the Obama Administration, after Congress repeatedly rejected this amnesty-first approach, also helped spur a humanitarian crisis – the massive surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America [11] including, in some cases, young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout our country [12] , such as MS-13. [13]

"Only by the reliable enforcement of immigration law can we produce safe communities [14], a robust middle class, and economic fairness for all Americans.

"Therefore, in the best interests of our country, and in keeping with the obligations of my office, the Department of Homeland Security will begin an orderly transition and wind-down of DACA, one that provides minimum disruption. [15] While new applications for work permits will not be accepted, all existing work permits will be honored until their date of expiration up to two full years from today. Furthermore, applications already in the pipeline will be processed, as will renewal applications for those facing near-term expiration. This is a gradual process, not a sudden phase out. Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, and will remain active for up to 24 months. Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.

"Our enforcement priorities remain unchanged. We are focused on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays, and repeat violators. I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang. [16]

"The decades-long failure of Washington, D.C. to enforce federal immigration law has had both predictable and tragic consequences: lower wages [17] and higher unemployment for American workers [18], substantial burdens on local schools [19] and hospitals [20], the illicit entry of dangerous drugs and criminal cartels, and many billions of dollars a year in costs paid for by U.S. taxpayers. [21] Yet few in Washington expressed any compassion for the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system. Before we ask what is fair to illegal immigrants, we must also ask what is fair to American families, students, taxpayers, and jobseekers.

"Congress now has the opportunity to advance responsible immigration reform that puts American jobs and American security first. We are facing the symptom of a larger problem, illegal immigration, along with the many other chronic immigration problems Washington has left unsolved. We must reform our green card system, which now favors low-skilled immigration and puts immense strain on U.S. taxpayers. We must base future immigration on merit – we want those coming into the country to be able to support themselves financially, to contribute to our economy, and to love our country and the values it stands for. Under a merit-based system, citizens will enjoy higher employment, rising wages, and a stronger middle class. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue have introduced the RAISE Act, which would establish this merit-based system [22] and produce lasting gains for the American People. [23]

"I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to finally address all of these issues in a manner that puts the hardworking citizens of our country first.

"As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion – but through the lawful Democratic process – while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. [24] We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans.

"Above all else, we must remember that young Americans have dreams too. Being in government means setting priorities. [25] Our first and highest priority in advancing immigration reform must be to improve jobs, wages and security for American workers and their families. [26]

"It is now time for Congress to act!"


[1] Here, President Trump appeals to the law. Last month, he showed contempt for the law by pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of criminal contempt of court for intentionally violating a federal court order prohibiting racial profiling. Back to statement.

[2] Since taking office Trump has bypassed Congress 45 times to issue executive ordersBack to statement.

[3] As explained by Vox, Trump's reasoning for rescinding the DACA executive order contradicts his words and actions concerning his Muslim ban executive order. "Exercising some discretion to ensure that 800,000 particularly sympathetic cases out of a total population of about 11 million won’t be targeted is a perfectly reasonable approach," writes Vox's Matthew Yglesias, "and Trump absolutely had the option of standing up in court for his right to take that approach. He simply chose not to." Back to statement.

[4] DREAMers would have contributed $24.6 billion to Social Security and Medicaid over the next decade. Back to statement.

[5] The House passed a DREAM Act in 2010, but the bill couldn't get enough support in that year to get over a Senate filibuster. Back to statement.

[6] The Supreme Court has not ruled DACA to be unconstitutional. Back to statement.

[7] The attorney general of Tennessee backed away from the suit last week, citing the "human element" and saying that "there is a better approach." Back to statement.

[8] The attorneys general sent Trump a letter threatening to sue the administration. They did not file a lawsuit. Back to statement.

[9] A group of 100 law professors from around the country have said they disagree with Trump. They say DACA is constitutional. Back to statement.

[10] For comparison, Trump's Muslim ban executive order, made without legislative approval, drastically complicated the immigration process for many immigrants and refugees. Back to statement.

[11] DACA critics contend that inaccurate reporting on DACA in Central American newspapers led to this "massive surge of unaccompanied minors." According to the Huffington Post, the children who crossed the border were more likely motivated by a potential reunion with family than changes in U.S. immigration policy. Back to statement.

[12] Many families fled Central America to the United States because of violent gangsBack to statement.

[13] Trump has repeatedly used MS-13 to push his hardline immigration policies. Back to statement.

[14] Research has shown that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens, and many law enforcement officials believe intensified immigration law enforcement is a policy that actually undermines public safety. Back to statement.

[15] The 800,000 young people who were brought to this country as children will lose their jobs, health care and access to education. Back to statement.

[16] To be a DACA recipient, one must have no significant criminal record. Back to statement.

[17] According to a report prepared last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, immigration has an overall positive impact on economic growth and small-to-no-effect on wages and employment for native-born workers. Back to statement.

[18] Economists say there is no clear connection between less immigration and more jobs for native-born workers. Back to statement.

[19] Education leaders across the country have urged the Trump administration not to end DACA. Back to statement.

[20] Undocumented immigrants are not a burden on hospitals. They provided a surplus of $35.1 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund between 2000 and 2011, according to a Journal of General Internal Medicine study. DACA recipients have also become medical students and doctorsBack to statement.

[21] DACA beneficiaries would have contributed $460.3 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next decade. Back to statement.

[22] This quiz from TIME shows how difficult it is to meet the RAISE Act's high bar for immigration. Back to statement.

[23] The RAISE Act reflects the shameful agenda of nativists and white nationalists who fear the growing diversity of our country. Back to statement.

[24] Those American citizens include children whose parents have been protected by DACA. Back to statement.

[25] An NBC/Survey Monkey poll released last week showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans support program allowing DREAMers to stay in the country. Back to statement.

[26] Experts say repealing DACA would worsen the shortage of workers in the United States. Deporting DREAMers would also mean deporting taxpayers. The Cato Institute has estimated a potential $60 billion loss in tax revenue to the federal government and $280 billion hit to economic growth over 10 years. Back to statement.

This article was originally found on the Southern Poverty Law Center's website.

SPLC on Campus Announces Fall Webinar Series

SPLC on Campus is offering a series of webinars that are designed to aid in starting and maintaining a successful club, teach you about the Alt-Right, and offer tips for engaging in nonviolent protest on campus and conducting voter registration.

Here’s the schedule:

Wednesday, September 6 (1pm CT): The Alt-Right on Campus – using our newest guide to the Alt-Right, this webinar will detail the lead figures in the alt-right movement, as well as how to respond to this movement. EDIT: This archived webinar is available by registering here.

Friday, September 8 (1pm CT): Starting an SPLC on Campus Club – this webinar will focus on how to become an official club, how to recruit members, and how to become an effective force for change on campus. EDIT: This archived webinar is available by registering here.

Wednesday, September 20 (1pm CT): Voter Registration – this webinar will offer tips on conducting voter registration on campus and in your community.

This schedule will be updated with any changes and links for registration.

Join us!

No hate welcome here: President, SGA and diversity officer speak out against racism, bigotry

Image by Kris Martins

Image by Kris Martins

Students around the country have witnessed white nationalists of the Alt-Right as they increasingly target college campuses with hate-filled flyers, speaking engagements, and recruitment. Chip Brownlee writes about Auburn University’s response in The Plainsman.

College campuses across the United States have become the focal points of a growing trend of alt-right and white nationalist propaganda, hate speech and recruitment efforts — and Auburn is no different.

In a series of interviews, University leaders — including President Steven Leath, Student Government President Jacqueline Keck and Associate Provost Taffye Clayton, the University’s diversity and inclusion officer — spoke out against what they labeled as “hate and bigotry.”

“I think we’ve made a commitment and made it clear that these are not beliefs of ours, and it’s not a reflection of who we are,” Keck said. “I always think we should just take a stand against it.”

Since last fall, Auburn has become a target for alt-right action. Former Breitbart News tech editor Milo Yiannopolous, known for his blatantly sexist and Islamaphobic rhetoric, spoke on campus in October 2016. In the spring, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer fought the University in court over a speech in Foy Hall — a speech that ended up being filled with themes and thoughts that were overtly racist.

While most of the events on Auburn’s campus have lacked any serious violence, they haven’t been isolated or infrequent.


In the month before Spencer’s speech, a new “Auburn White Student Union” popped up online and distributed dozens of anti-Semitic fliers on campus. One of the “resources” listed on their website is a 4-hour YouTube video highlighting the “Case for White Nationalism.”

A similar trend has spread across other campuses. Controversial white nationalist speakers come to speak, and instances of leafleting and other attempts at recruitment precede or follow, attempting to take advantage of the controversy.

Clayton and Keck said hate and violence do not belong at Auburn and are being propagated by outside actors.

“I think that there are important and challenging and, unfortunately, violent things happening around the nation that are not specific to Auburn in particular,” Clayton told The Plainsman. “Auburn University is a family, a University that is guided by a set of core values. Among those values is diversity. We will continue to be wedded to our enduring values, and that’s what we represent.”

Leath agreed that Auburn is just one of many places experiencing these incidents.

“Auburn is a wonderful place with wonderful people, but we’re not immune from what’s happening throughout society,” Leath said. “Our goal is to deal with it responsibly and in a way that contributes to better understanding and intellectual growth.”

The University issued several statements affirming their commitment to diversity and inclusion during the Spencer events, as well, and went as far as to attempt to block the event because of administrator and police concerns over students’ safety.

The University also forced the White Student Union to remove University trademarks, and the group still hasn’t obtained official student organization status.

The conversation has continued over how to respond to these instances of racism, particularly after the Unite The Right white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended in violence and the death of one 32-year-old anti-racism demonstrator who was run over by a car allegedly driven by a neo-Nazi sympathizer.

And over the weekend, a rising leader in youth alt-right circles, 19-year-old Nicholas Fuentes, who attended that rally, said he would be transferring to Auburn in the spring to “rally the troops.”

Fuentes has repeatedly said Islamaphobic and violent statements and espoused his desire for a white ethnostate on his Right Side Broadcasting Network show, “America First.”

The network is based in Auburn.

While Fuentes was accepted for the fall semester, he will have to re-apply for the spring because he didn’t accept that offer. The University hasn’t directly responded to Fuentes’ plans to transfer, which is commonplace.

Leath — now just three months into his new job as the University’s 19th president — will undoubtedly be faced with more issues like these in his time at Auburn.

On Tuesday, Leath told The Plainsman that the University will stand for “free speech and robust exploration of ideas,” but condemned racism and hate.

“The best thing we can do is make clear that we stand for respect, civility, integrity and equality and to do so in a thoughtful, peaceful manner,” Leath said. “The Auburn Creed is clear. Hate, racism and bigotry are not a part of Auburn.”

More generally, none of the three campus leaders directly named white nationalism or white supremacy as the culprit of the increased activity at Auburn or nationwide, which could be a mistake, said Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC is a Montgomery-based civil rights nonprofit that tracks hate groups.

“Stand strongly against it and talk about everything that has happened, acknowledge everything that has happened,” Brooks told The Plainsman. “The students already know what has happened.”

Leaving the movement simmering underground won’t work, Brooks said.

“It just runs the chance of letting the bad guys think they can get away with it,” Brooks said.

In addition to issuing the statements on diversity, the University has chosen to support student-organized attempts to counter the white nationalist speeches and incidents on campus with events featuring messages of inclusivity.

The NFL’s first openly gay player, Michael Sam, spoke on campus about his experience being a gay professional athlete only two days before Yiannopoulos came. Students organized a music festival on the Green Space, Auburn Unites, to counter Spencer’s event. Black student organizations led a peaceful march in protest.

“It is not a place that is unwelcoming,” Clayton said, “It is a place that gives purpose to getting better. There are indicators that we are serious about the mission.”

Clayton is also overseeing a new speaker series called “Critical Conversations” that seeks to highlight different viewpoints with frank, open and respectful debates.

As part of the “Critical Conversation” series, prominent figures from across the political spectrum will deliver lectures on free speech and intellectual diversity in public education. The first lectures will be with Cornel West, a liberal scholar, and conservative Princeton professor Robert George.

“It is vitally important, in the spirit of free speech, that our students come and expect that they may encounter individuals with views that are different from their own,” Clayton said. “Those that are more hate-riddled and violent are certainly things we are not talking about, and I think that it is important to make that distinction.”

How Five Weeks Strengthened My Resolve


I settle down at my computer, at least six tabs open on Chrome, my email popping up with a notification, and Word staring back with one 90-page document open, waiting for me to continue.  It is not yet ten-thirty and two of my supervisors are away at a conference. My fellow intern, Jerneice, sits across an aisle from me and Lecia Brooks, the director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center and of SPLC on Campus, sits to my right. The music from my headphones lulls to background noise and I open another Word doc, further crowding my screen, as I begin to type.

Two months ago, I spent more time than I would like to admit adjusting my resume—cutting out irrelevant jobs and cramming in experience—for a job at a nonprofit I had hesitated applying to a year and a half ago. At that time, I was unsure of where I wanted to be after my undergrad. I felt ill prepared for life after college and was taking a full course load to graduate faster and rush into the unknown. My major, anthropology, had nurtured my passion for people and I had been determined to go to law school and help others any way I could. But, seeing as I was rushing through my degree and graduating in the fall semester, I was kind of stuck because I couldn’t apply for spring admission at any law schools I was interested in. After taking a Deaf culture class and finishing all my major requirements, I was determined to fight for the rights of others. I looked into an internship and a couple other jobs at the Southern Poverty Law Center, but dismissed applying because I was almost a year from graduation with no time for a full-time job.

In the fall, a new master’s program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights was announced. I was beyond ecstatic to be accepted and I started a new degree three weeks after walking across the stage at Troy University for my first.  A couple months into the program, we were encouraged to attend a presentation at the student center by SPLC. My classmates and I filed in, sitting on the same row, and listened attentively. Shortly thereafter, I was in contact with the coordinator for SPLC on Campus, Daniel Davis, and trying to start a chapter at UAB. In May, he announced an internship opportunity for the summer. Here, I spent too much time adjusting my resume and sent it in along with a lengthy writing sample from a class that semester.

I wasn’t extremely nervous before my interview, but it was via video chat, so that was a new experience for me. A few days after, HR called me to offer me a job and my reply was, “Awesome!” That pretty much sums up my experience here at SPLC on Campus. The atmosphere is so accepting, warm, and encouraging; everyone I have met is genuine and kind. In fact, on my first day, I met Richard Cohen, the President, in the elevator and he introduced himself as the “elevator operator.” Morris Dees, the founder, took all the interns to a lunch on the weekend following orientation and encouraged everyone to eat their fill of Southern comfort foods. My team is my favorite part, though, besides knowing that I’m helping others. Shay DeGolier, Outreach and Organizing Specialist, Daniel, Lecia, Jerneice, and I are the driving force behind SPLC on Campus this summer. I’ve been working on gathering resources and links to post on our website for students and other interested individuals to utilize. Compiling a list of social justice organizations at each of the ten largest universities/colleges in every state is my other major task; this is the 90-page list that is still a work-in-progress. 

As founder of the UAB chapter, being on the other end of this process is enlightening. There is so much work that goes into ensuring all chapters run smoothly: providing resources and items for them, travelling to speak at events they participate in or for conferences, constantly monitoring news and media for the site and social media, etc. SPLC on Campus is only two years old—and has accomplished so much in so little time. Lately, I had been wondering how much I could actually help others. How much can one person actually change things? They can significantly; reminders of this are all around me. Morris Dees works upstairs, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s office is a few blocks away at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Civil Rights Memorial greets me everyday on my way to work, and the Civil Rights Memorial Center, profoundly powerful and emotional, is my view from the building windows. Being around so much inspiration, determination, and productivity has encouraged me to follow my path to human rights law. My time here around so many empowered individuals has strengthened my resolve to help protect the rights of others. The SPLC on Campus team have been extremely helpful, fun to work with, and very involved in current events and with their chapters. They inspired me to be proactive and to help UAB’s chapter to be involved and active on campus.

-Caitlin Beard, SPLC on Campus Intern

A Primer on Responding to Hate in Your Backyard

Taking methods from the SPLC's updated Ten Ways to Fight Hate, Steve Tanner of 500 Pens has written this list of the best ways to respond in the face of hate and bigotry: 

1. Draw Attention Away From Hateful Protests and Demonstrations

Whether it’s a Ku Klux Klan rally down main street or an anti-immigrant protest at a public park, the best response is to draw attention away from the event by creating an alternative, as noted in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC’s) Ten Ways to Fight Hate: Community Response Guide. Sure, the natural response is to attend the rally and stage a counter-protest, but such confrontations tend to serve the perpetrators (in this case, the bigoted demonstrators) and often lead to violence.

Instead, the SPLC advocates that “every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity.” Specifically, this could take the form of an alternative event — held at the same time as the hate-based event but in a different area — emphasizing the strength of the community in all its diversity.

For example, once when the Klan came to Indianapolis for a rally, museums and other local attractions provided free admission to city residents; a youth rally was held by community leaders in a ballroom; and a coalition of community leaders took out a full-page newspaper ad deploring the Klan and what they stand for. Similarly, a Klan rally in Pulaski, Tenn. (the birthplace of the KKK) prompted local businesses to close down, which meant there were no restaurants or even public restrooms for the Klan marchers.  

2. Do Not Engage with the Attackers
People who show disregard or outright hatred for Muslims, African Americans, Jews, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, or members of other minority groups cannot be expected to act rationally. This means confronting or arguing with such individuals likely will not help the situation, but could actually pour gasoline on the fire.

“People attacking and using hate speech are acting on high emotions; the antidote isn’t trying to reason with them or throw facts at them,” explains Amy Cox, Director of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution master’s program at Arcadia University in Philadelphia. “Bad situations become worse when individuals try to directly address the attacker.”

So if confronting the attacker is the wrong approach in most situations, then what can you do when hate rears its ugly head? Generally, we want to protect the person being attacked.

3. Focus on Protecting the Attacked Person
If it’s a random person on a train, the sidewalk, a restaurant, or some other public place, the key is to help the person being targeted to feel safe and protected or to physically create a safe space for them, Cox explains. She acknowledges that our knee-jerk reaction is often to try and “talk down” the perpetrator, but stresses that helping the person being attacked is almost always the safest and more effective approach. She offers the following guidelines:

  • Engage the attacked person in a conversation about something random (such as the weather) just to interrupt the hateful act.
  • Gently step between the attacker and the attacked person, engaging the attacked person with simple conversation or even just a smile.
  • Give the attacked person a safe place to move toward, such as a seat in a different area of the bus or a spot where they would feel more secure.
  • Act as if you know the person being attacked and pull them away from the unpleasant situation.

This strategy also is explained through a series of illustrations titled “What to do if you are witnessing Islamophobic harassment” by an artist named Maeril. In the illustrated guide, all of the focus is on creating a safe space for the attacked individual (depicted as a woman in a hijab), while the attacker is simply ignored.      

4. Alert the Police and Other Authorities When Appropriate
Speak up and contact the authorities if you witness an act of bigoted hostility or harassment, according to attorney and outspoken LGBTQ rights advocate Gina Scialabba, who regularly interacted with police while working as a deputy San Mateo district attorney.

If you witness (or are the victim of) a hate crime, be sure to take notes — assuming it’s safe and practical to do so — and report it immediately. After reporting it to your local police, you also can file a report with the SPLC, which tracks hate crimes across the country. The organization Muslim Advocates provides a state-by-state directory of FBI and attorney general contacts for reporting hate crimes, while the Human Rights Campaign (a prominent LGBTQ civil rights organization) offers a step-by-step guide for what to do if you’re the victim of a hate crime.

It’s important to keep in mind that hate speech is generally protected by the First Amendment, while not every act of bigotry is a “hate crime” in the technical sense. Regardless, reporting acts of bigotry can help the police and other authorities be more aware of what’s happening and potentially prevent the escalation of more serious acts.

5. Prepare in Advance
Hindsight is 20/20, but opportunities to nip a hateful act in the bud often come along when we least expect it. Lecia Brooks, Outreach Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), recommends preparing for these kinds of encounters in advance: “If a person has given careful consideration to how they’ll react,” she says, “they’re more likely to muster the courage to speak up. For example, someone who isn’t prepared may resort to a knee-jerk reaction (such as arguing with the attacker) that could escalate the situation instead of extinguishing it.

Brooks also suggests reviewing the SPLC publication “Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry” as well as their brand-new guide, “SPLC Campus Guide to Countering ‘Alt-Right.‘”