Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was among those last week who introduced a bill to track when bigots cross the line of free speech and commit "hate crimes" - physically assaulting, murdering, robbing or raping someone because of the victim's race or religion.
Meanwhile, another Republican - David Duke, a newly elected member of the Louisiana Legislature - has been carefully working to camouflage his "hate speech."That became apparent to me because I'm on the mailing list of several white-supremacist groups and received from Duke a fund-raising letter aimed at them. Its candid racism showed Duke's true character much more than his carefully crafted public statements for the national press.
Duke was a leader in the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan and made national news the past month as top Republicans including President Bush and Ronald Reagan campaigned against him - a member of their party - to disavow racism.
Duke won anyway and countered criticism of his KKK background with public statements that he favored "equal rights for all."
Such quotes in the national media made it seem as if Duke had repented of his KKK background and now wanted equal rights. It made the negative campaigning by Reagan and Bush appear as an unnecessary interference in a local election.
At least, I found myself starting to wonder and think that way until I received the fund-raising letter from Duke.
To help cover the 30 or so white-supremacist groups that claim adherents in Utah, I wrote to them identifying myself as a newspaper reporter and asked for any pamphlets or newsletters they could send to explain their beliefs. Several put me on their mailing lists.
Duke's fund-raising letter begins: "We are making history in Louisiana. As an open defender of the rights of white people, I have stunned the media and political establishment by finishing a strong first in the recent (primary) election here."
The letter includes a map of areas where his opponent did well in the primary - which are mostly inhabited by blacks and minorities. Other quotes from the letter:
- "The battle is far from over. We have struck a powerful blow for our ideals, but the fire-breathing, minority-racist media dragon is mustering all its strength to try to defeat the awakening spirit of our people."
- "My opponent is receiving an ocean of money from every anti-white special interest imaginable."
- "Social and other Marxist organizations are assembling to march against us here in Metairie before the election."
- "One can almost feel the panic of the media establishment. Our enemies know, perhaps, more than anyone else, the potential represented by this campaign for our people's basic civil rights."
- He also explains what he envisions as equal rights for all: "I am the only candidate in recent America who has made a major issue out of the anti-white racial discrimination called affirmative action. I am the only one who points out that poverty can never be cured without curbing the welfare illegitmate birthrate. I am the only candidate addressing the true underlying causes of violent crime and the deterioration of our schools and neighborhoods."
Although his letter doesn't mention what those specific "causes" or how he plans to solve problems with illegitimacy or affirmative action, the underlying message is that non-white, non-Christian minorities are the root of all such problems.
Hatch said when he introduced his "hate crime" bill that it would provide more information about where such crimes are occurring so law agencies and the public can confront them.
Perhaps, the media and others - myself included - need to follow that lead and better track hate speech, too, especially when a public official is making it.
Sure, such speech is legal and allowed by the First Amendment. But it's still ugly. And showing the public precisely how vile and cancerous it is may be the first step to truly conquer such attitudes and prevent hate speech from becoming hate crime.