Wednesday, November 19, 2008





I am placing this article here for the purpose of discussion. How say you?

America The Illiterate
By Chris Hedges

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality- based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation's population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.

The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge.

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless. They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by clichés, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both.

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush- Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates, George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates, Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bushspoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today's political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous "person" is Mickey Mouse.

In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable. Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that "Hamlet" can be as entertaining as "The Lion King" and perhaps as educational. "Culture," she wrote, "is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment. "

"There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect," Arendt wrote, "but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say."

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity, entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers-our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues-who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


SPLC Wins $2.5 Million Verdict Against Imperial Klans of America

The Southern Poverty Law Center today won a crushing jury verdict against one of the nation's largest Klan groups for its role in the brutal beating of a teenager at a county fair in rural Kentucky.
The $2.5 million verdict will likely cripple the Imperial Klans of America, which has 16 chapters in eight states.

"The people of Meade County, Kentucky, have spoken loudly and clearly. And what they've said is that ethnic violence has no place in our society, that those who promote hate and violence will be held accountable and made to pay a steep price," said SPLC founder and chief trial attorney Morris Dees, who tried the case. "We look forward to collecting every dime that we can for our client and to putting the Imperial Klans of America out of business."

The SPLC brought the lawsuit on behalf of Jordan Gruver, who was 16 when he was attacked in July 2006.

The jury deliberated for approximately five hours before delivering the verdict against IKA Imperial Wizard Ron Edwards and two former IKA members, Jarred Hensley and Andrew Watkins, both of whom served two years in state prison for assaulting Gruver. The SPLC earlier reached settlements with Watkins and one other Klansmen.

The verdict included $1.5 million in compensatory damages — apportioned among Edwards, Hensley and Watkins — and $1 million in punitive damages against Edwards.

The SPLC argued in court that the Edwards and the IKA incited the racial hatred that led to the attack at the Meade County Fair in Brandenburg in July 2006.

Several Klansmen were at the fair on a recruiting mission when they spotted Gruver, who is a U.S. citizen of Panamanian descent. They threw whisky in his face and called him a "spic." Gruver, who stood 5-foot-3 and weighed just 150 pounds at the time, was surrounded, beaten to the ground and kicked by the Klansmen, one of whom was 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. He was left with a broken jaw and arm, two cracked ribs and multiple cuts. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and has permanent arm and jaw injuries.

The attack on Gruver is symptomatic of a rising tide of hate and violence directed toward Latinos in the United States. The SPLC has documented at 48 percent rise in the number of hate groups since 2000 — an increase fueled by the anti-immigration furor. Recent FBI statistics show a 40 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Latinos between 2003 and 2007.

During the trial, the SPLC demonstrated how the IKA and Edwards fostered an atmosphere of hate and violence. The IKA's compound in Dawson Springs, Ky., is home to Nordic Fest, an annual music festival that brings together Klansmen, skinheads and members of other violent hate groups.

Former Klansman Kale Kelly testified at the trial that Edwards instructed him to kill Dees during the SPLC's lawsuit against the Aryan Nations in the late 1990s. Kelly said he planned to track Dees in Idaho, where the trial was held, and that Edwards would supply the weapon. But in April 1999, within days of the plot being executed, an FBI undercover operation foiled the plan. Kelly served time in federal prison on weapons charges. Edwards was never charged.

Over the past 25 years, the SPLC has crippled some of the nation's largest and most violent hate groups by helping victims of racial violence sue for monetary damages. Its victories include a $7 million verdict against the United Klans of America in 1987 for the lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Ala.; a $12.4 million verdict against the White Aryan Resistance in 1990 for the brutal murder of an Ethiopian student in Portland; and a $6.3 million verdict against the Aryan Nations in 2000 that forced the organization to give up its 20-acre compound in Idaho.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Graphic from OPP

White supremacist leader denies threatening juror

AP Legal Affairs Writer

11:14 AM CST, November 12, 2008


A white supremacist leader pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he threatened one of the jurors who convicted another racial activist of soliciting the murder of a federal judge.

William White, 31, of Roanoke, Va., appeared briefly before U.S. District Judge William J. Hibbler, who set a Dec. 5 hearing on his request for bond. White whispered to his attorneys but said nothing aloud, and was escorted away afterward by a phalanx of federal marshals.

White is charged with threatening the foreman of the jury that in April 2004 convicted white supremacist Matthew Hale of East Peoria of soliciting an undercover FBI informant to murder U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.

Hale is serving a 40-year federal prison sentence.

White is commander of the American National Socialist Workers Party. Attorneys said he has made his living by purchasing houses, rehabbing and reselling them.

Defense attorney Nishay K. Sanan told reporters after the hearing that his case would focus on White's right to express himself under the law.

"This case is going to be the U.S. versus the First Amendment," Sanan said.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


A noose found dangling from a tree, 10 neo-Nazi's demonstrate in Tyler, TX, 50 swastika waving white nationalists march in Missouri, a cross is burned in the yard of a black family in New Jersey, and Americans barely even notice.

Thinking the Klan is dead and organized racism is a thing of the past, local residents expressed shock and disbelief when the body of a woman was found in St. Tammany Parish and eight KKK members were arrested in her death.

While we struggle to alert and educate communities and organizations around the country, it is still largely believed by the populace that these groups are nothing more than an anomaly in our society and pose no danger...think again. The potential for violence is always present.


Related To Story

St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's deputies recovered these KKK robes from a campsite where they say a woman being initiated into the Klan was shot and killed.

Woman Killed After KKK Initiation Argument
Hate Groups Not Re-surging, Agent Says
Residents React To News Of KKK Slaying

Images: Suspects In KKK Slaying

Slaying Linked To KKK Initiation; 8 Arrested
Woman Traveled From Oklahoma To Join

POSTED: 1:20 pm CST November 11, 2008
UPDATED: 6:43 pm CST November 11, 2008

COVINGTON, La. -- Eight people were arrested Tuesday in connection with the killing of a woman who apparently tried to back out of a Ku Klux Klan initiation ritual, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain said Tuesday.

The woman was slain Sunday morning, allegedly shot to death by a Klan leader from Bogalusa. Her body was found Monday in a ditch in the small St. Tammany community of Sun, about 60 miles north of New Orleans, the sheriff said.

Raymond "Chuck" Foster, 44, is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting the woman. Seven others -- Raymond Foster's son, 20-year-old Shane Foster; Frank Stafford, 21; Timothy Michael Watkins, 30; Alicia M. Watkins, 23; Andrew Yates, 20; Random Hines, 27; and Danielle Jones, 23 -- are facing obstruction of justice charges.

All the suspects are being held in the St. Tammany Parish jail.

Strain said the woman lived near Tulsa, Okla., and was recruited over the Internet to come to Louisiana for initiation into the Klan. Deputies have not been able to confirm her identity.

She arrived in Slidell last week and was met by two members of the group, Strain said. She was taken to a campground near Pearl River for the initiation ceremony, and when she asked to be taken back into town, there was an argument. That's when Foster allegedly shot and killed her, Strain said.

The other members of the Klan group are accused of helping cover up the crime by burning items at the campsite, including the woman's personal effects. A clerk at a nearby Circle K alerted police after two of the suspects went into the store bathroom to wash blood out of their clothes, Strain said.

Investigators found Klan paraphernalia at the campsite, including flags and six Klan uniforms. Strain said Raymond Foster is chief of the "Sons of Dixie" or "Dixie Brotherhood" KKK branch.

Strain said the case does not appear to be connected to the recent election of Barack Obama as president. He told WDSU he was surprised to find out about this KKK group because it hadn't been very visible before.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


It was one of those indelible moments. You know, the ones where you will never forget where you were or what you were doing when it was announced. Through my tears, I watched Barack Obama address a sea of faces – all kinds of faces – young, old, black, white, Asian, and Hispanic. I listened to his message of hope and unity and I thought about where we have been, where we have come from.

I thought about so many of you who have worked so hard and so tirelessly to educate and to unite our communities. I thought about the decades of work that have gone in to this fight against racism and bigotry and the people I have met along the way. Each and every one of us HAVE made a difference – we haven’t won the war – but we HAVE left our mark.

Through my joyous weeping, I dedicated every tear to anyone who had spoken out against racism, who had refused to silently accept bigotry, who had stared hate in the face and turned it away. Because of you – last night was possible. Because of you – the American dream that all things are possible became a reality for millions more. Thank you.

Monday, November 03, 2008


I found this to be quite an interesting read and thought I would share it for the purpose of discussion.


Nick Herbert: Hate Crime - the limits of the law
Nick Herbert MP, Monday, November 3 2008

Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today. I am especially pleased to be speaking to you on a subject - hate crime - which is of such great importance and relevance to our society today.

Next Sunday, 9 November, is Remembrance Sunday. But it is also the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which saw 92 Jews murdered in the Third Reich and tens of thousands shipped to concentration camps.

The Holocaust which those events began, and the regime that devised and directed it, surely remains for us the most horrific example of the harm that human hatred can cause.

It is the triumph of the 21st Century that so much of that hatred has passed, yet its tragedy that so much remains. 70 years later, the scars in Germany and elsewhere are still so deep that the criminal law is deployed to ensure that history is not revised. When the President of Iran grotesquely describes the Holocaust as "a legend", it is not hard to understand the motivation for ensuring that such views can never take root again. Last month the Australian academic Frederick Toben was controversially arrested in this country, pending his extradition to Germany for the crime of Holocaust denial.

Denying the Holocaust is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 13 European countries. Yet such a law has never been accepted here, and in the United States, Holocaust denial is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. No issue could be more sensitive, and none could demonstrate better the acute dilemma which is created by the notion of hate crime, that between the desire to protect minorities from harm, and the desire to preserve free speech.

Striking the right balance has preoccupied Parliament since legislation to protect minorities was first conceived. When, two years after I was born, the Race Relations Act of 1965 was brought in, the Conservative Party opposed it, fearing that making racial discrimination a crime would only exacerbate race relations in areas where it was already a problem. But the Party's view changed. In 1986 we ourselves brought forward the Public Order Act which makes it an offence to stir up racial hatred. This began the move towards outlawing words designed to fuel hatred.

We also supported the current Government's plans for aggravated sentences for hate crime which were introduced in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. But as the sphere of hate crime legislation increases, our concerns about the potential restrictions on free speech have grown. We pushed for the introduction of a free speech clause in the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act. Most recently, on the issue of incitement to gay hatred, we supported the principle of the new offence, a position which demonstrates the compass of the modern Conservative Party and of which I am proud. But we also moved to ensure that free speech concerns were addressed.

Why hate crime legislation is necessary

In amending the Public Order Act 1986, the Government placed incitement to gay hatred on the same footing as that of racial and religious hatred, a change which led to serious concerns about the balance between protection for vulnerable groups and free speech.

Referring to this latest piece of hate crime legislation, the commentator Johann Hari said:

'Hate crimes laws undermine one of the most persuasive arguments of the gay rights movement. At every step of the way, all we have asked for is the same rights enjoyed by straight people: to have sex, to get married, to adopt. The anti-gay lobby has always claimed we are asking for "special rights", and it has always been a lie. But hate crimes laws do, finally, turn us into a special category. It says that stabbing me is worse than stabbing my heterosexual brother.'

Now I accept that, by its very nature, hate crime legislation singles certain groups out for special treatment, but this is not simply for being gay, or black, or disabled, or Muslim, but for being the victim of a particular type of crime. An assault against a gay man is not treated more seriously because the victim is a gay man, but only if the assault was motivated by the fact that the victim was gay. And the legislation does this for two very good reasons: the heightened emotional effect of such crimes on specific individuals, and because of the fear which cane be aroused in the affected communities.

When a young man is attacked in a random act of violence, or mugged for his ipod, or beaten up in a drunken affray outside a pub, this causes a substantial amount of personal trauma and may contribute to a general climate of fear and concern about crime, but it does not instil a particular fear in the wider community in which it takes place.

But when a black man is beaten up by racist thugs, or a Muslim family's house is daubed with Islamophobic graffiti, or a young gay man is kicked to death on Clapham Common by people shouting homophobic insults, the effect on their respective communities is far more pronounced.

Victims of hate crime experience a form of stigmatisation which carries a clear message that they, and their community, are a target, and that they are of marginal value. These crimes also create mental crime maps of harassment for communities. They contribute to creating no-go areas for some people.

Research suggests that that hate crimes can especially hurt individuals. For example, when looking at evidence of psychological and emotional harm caused to victims of crime it is clear that those who were victims of racially motivated crime present increased cases of shock, anxiety and depression when compared to victims of crimes which were not racially motivated.

I do not intend for one moment to diminish the serious impact of the majority of crimes, but rather I want to draw attention to the particular emotional harm which can be caused by hate crime. Victims of racial hate crime also fear more for future victimisation than victims of almost all other forms of crime, except rape.

It is because hate crimes against individuals make victims of whole communities that Parliament took the decision in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act to signal that crimes fuelled by hatred - hatred of something normally outside the victim's control, be it their race, or sexuality - have wider consequences and must be dealt with more harshly than, for example, acquisitive crime. Whilst enhanced penalties had existed, under the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, courts were not making full use of these powers. For example, in 1997-98, only a fifth of cases where racial motivation was a factor were sentences increased on that basis.

But despite the evidence of a harm 'premium' associated with hate crime, there nonetheless remains a body of opinion that questions the very basis of such legislation. Such criticism of hate crime laws is found on both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum.

The conservative or libertarian objection has been ably articulated by commentators like Melanie Phillips, who has argued that hate crime legislation is an 'Orwellian response to prejudice', and that, by attempting to legislate for people's thoughts and 'bad values', the State oversteps the limits of acceptable boundaries.

These are serious points, but on careful reflection I disagree with them. I believe that hate crimes, where the perpetrator's values strike at the core of the victim's identity, are deserving of a response which targets those very values. Moreover, hate crime legislation no more punishes offenders for their values than does the rest of criminal law.

Those who steal, assault, rape or murder - for whatever reason - make value judgements before committing those crimes. These judgements may be subconscious, and will likely be coloured by many other factors, for example, conditioning borne of childhood experience, the influence of addiction, or mental health problems, but there will be a value judgement made nonetheless. Just because the punishment of 'bad values' in hate crime legislation is more explicit does not mean that the rest of criminal law ignores or downplays these judgements. In fact, in almost all crime the major aggravating factor in determining the punishment is motivation; indeed, the presence of a guilty mind is of course an essential component of criminality. The idea that an offender's thoughts are irrelevant to the offence that has been committed simply does not accord with the fundamentals of our criminal law.

Another prominent commentator From the Left who invoked Orwell was Peter Tatchell, who in 2002 attacked the Government's equality agenda by paraphrasing Animal Farm's proclamation that 'some people are more equal than others'. Curiously, just four years earlier, he had unsuccessfully attempted to get anti-gay hate crime legislation introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 in order to achieve equality with the protection available to other, specifically racial, groups. That such a prominent gay rights activist has changed his mind is a sign of the dilemmas which hate crime laws throw up. Last year Tatchell argued forcefully that the proposed gay hatred legislation was not the right way to tackle prejudice.

Concerns about the use of hate crime legislation to drive equality cannot not be dismissed out of hand. But I think the best response came from Martin Luther King, who said:

'It is true that behaviour cannot be legislated, and legislation cannot make you love me, but legislation can restrain you from lynching me, and I think that is kind of important'

He repeated:

'While it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behaviour can be regulate. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.'

Free speech

But where the opponents of hate crime legislation really have a point is in relation to the potential infringement of freedom of speech. These concerns will be exacerbated if offences aimed at tackling incitement to hatred are not carefully drafted and enforced.

Free speech is a fundamental and historic liberty in Britain, and Parliament has always been rightly cautious about restraining it. It would be very easy to push harder and harder against the door of liberty in the name of protection for sensitive minorities or the easily offended, but the balance must always be struck so that people are free, and feel free, to voice opinions and disagreement which, even if objectionable, are not directly harmful.

During the passage of the recent Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill we grappled with this issue, attempting to strike the right balance between liberty and protection, and it is a balance with which we also struggled when approaching the religious hatred provisions the Government introduced in 2005.

It was my view during the passage of the latest Bill that we had to delineate between what Stonewall described as 'temperate criticism', which must never be illegal, and language which is so inflammatory that it causes harm or triggers violence. And it is important that the criminal justice system, and those who practice in it, understand that this is the balance on which we as legislators have settled.

It is a fair criticism that, whilst Parliament signalled this broad balance, what actually ended up on the Statute Book does not make it fully clear where the delineation lies.
The so-called 'free-speech clause' which was ultimately added to the Bill in the House of Lords by former Home Secretary Lord Waddington says that 'the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred'.

This rather dislikeable provision was, I regret, the best which Parliament could do in the restricted time which the Government made available. It now falls upon Ministers to issue clear guidance to the police and prosecutors on how it is to work in practice. It will then be for the courts to declare the right balance when cases present themselves.

However, the balance which I believe should be struck in deciding whether a hate crime is proved, and which reflects Parliament's will, is - to use the expression in the US Supreme Court decision R.A.V. v. City of St Paul - that 'fighting words' fall on the criminal side of the line, but merely offensive comment should not. Parliament has not introduced an offence of thought crime; nor should we.

The police and the CPS must pay attention to crimes of hate, and I applaud the DPP's speech last month on disability hate crime, where he both highlighted areas where prosecutions are failing and signalled a determination to do better. But the response of our law enforcement agencies must always be proportionate and must target the criminal, not just the immoral or unpleasant. Parliament did not intend that harmless abuse should be subject to criminal sanction. People who set out their views about gay practices in a temperate way might still cause offence, as might those who call Irishmen leprechauns, but such comment is not criminal, and should not attract heavy handed policing, still less prosecution. There have been some notorious examples of clumsy enforcement over the past few years. They have undermined public and media support for hate crime laws, and they have rightly made Parliament more cautious about extending the ambit of the criminal law. They have almost certainly also damaged the interests of the minorities which hate crime laws were meant to protect.

The police and Crown Prosecution Service should focus on those who seek to spread violent hatred. They should not be wasting resources on the politically-correct pursuit of neighbours who engage in tasteless insults. We must guard against a culture that allows criminal justice agencies to pursue easy targets while simultaneously allowing preachers of hate to call for the stoning of gay people.

Legislation alone cannot create a civilised society

But as well as things which legislation should not do, that is, infringe free speech without very good reason, there are also things it cannot do.

Hate crime legislation is designed to tackle the outward expression of values, but it also has a purpose in sending out a signal that certain views and values are anathema to civilised society, and that harmful actions emerging from those views will not be tolerated.

All criminal justice legislation must, by its nature, have some element of deterrence in it, and so when Parliament sets out in Statute that incitement to hatred on the grounds of race, religion or sexuality is to be outlawed, we intend that people sit up and take notice. Whether you are a white supremacist encouraging hatred of blacks, or an Imam preaching hatred of gay people, the message from Parliament is clear.

In fact, it is not only criminal justice legislation which seeks to change behaviour, or send a signal about what society considers acceptable. The legal status of marriage, for example, originally authored by the Established Church, clearly demonstrates that this is behaviour which society endorses and, indeed, actively promotes.

However, it would be wrong for politicians to assume that legislation is the only, or even the primary, means to govern public morality. Law making, however much it may send a signal or set a framework for dealing with events, cannot be the sole driver of social change. Whilst we in Parliament can plant a flag on an issue, declaring our intention, we cannot fundamentally alter people's views. Legislation cannot make windows into men's souls.

Let me give you one striking example. Despite all the laws and much progress over recent years, a poll in the Observer last weekend found that 24 per cent of the public think that gay sex should be made illegal. Eight years after the age of consent was equalised, and three years after civil partnerships were introduced, a quarter of the British public want to reverse these changes and take us back to the situation that existed before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. Some might say that this argues for more laws. I am not so certain.

Attitudes may be constrained by laws, and sometimes led by them, but ultimately it is only by fostering a shared feeling of responsibility that we can promote a tolerant society where people are considerate towards others and their feelings, and where they exercise judgement in what they say and do. If the furore this week about Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross has any lessons for us at all, it is that consideration and judgement can lead to the avoidance of offence. Their offensive behaviour was not just a failing of management at the BBC. It began with a failing of personal responsibility. I am pleased that one of those involved reclaimed a bit of that personal responsibility by choosing to resign.

So we should not believe that laws are a panacea. We will never outlaw hate, any more than we can outlaw anger. But we can set a careful framework to outlaw hatred which really harms, while protecting fundamental liberties. As the former US Attorney General John Ashcroft said, after famously changing his mind and invoking federal hate crime law, "hatred is the enemy of justice".

Sunday, November 02, 2008


The Tampa Tribune

Published: October 31, 2008

Two white supremacists accused of plotting to kill Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and dozens of other black people drew attention to themselves by etching swastikas on a car with sidewalk chalk.

A federal magistrate on Thursday granted a defense request to delay a hearing in Memphis, Tenn., for 20-year-old Daniel Cowart and 18-year-old Paul Schlesselman. He ordered the two to stay behind bars.