SALT LAKE CITY — In its most recent statistics, the FBI says there were 6,121 hate-motivated crimes committed in the country in 2016.
Some of these crimes were committed by organized hate groups, which target others based on factors such as sexual orientation or gender identity, race, religion or ethnicity. Today, they exist on both sides of the political spectrum.
But can someone's geographical location play a part in whether they will join a hate group?
According to a group of University of Utah geographers whose research was published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers on Friday, the answer is yes.
“Hate is a geographic problem. The ways people hate are based on the cultures, histories, ethnicities and many other factors dependent on place and place perception," the geographers said in a news release.
They were among the first to take a regional approach as they examined hate groups across the U.S. in research started two years ago.
Analyzing potential factors using county-level data from the U.S. Census, the researchers found that poverty levels, population changes, education, practice of religion and ethnic diversity all impact a given community's number of hate groups.
As researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Census, they looked at a map put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center that charts what it labels as hate groups across the U.S.
They found that when an area had a higher percent of population change within five years, it was more likely to have fewer hate groups, said Emily Nicolosi, a doctoral student and researcher on the project.
"Based on our findings, it seems that encouraging interaction between people of diverse backgrounds and increasing educational opportunities may contribute to less hate," Nicolosi said.
However, these factors impact some communities more than others, the researchers said.
To illustrate this, for areas along the West Coast, the Northeast and the Southeast, a higher percentage of religious people correlated with fewer hate groups.
But in the "middle of the country" from Texas through North Dakota, and an area from North Carolina through Ohio, more religious observance correlated with more hate groups, Nicolosi said.
However, "correlation is not causation," Nicolosi said. And in many places, she added, religion seemed to have a "neutral effect."
“People hate for different reasons because U.S. regions have different situations and histories," she said. "For example, the Northeast is a place of power that may be seen as elitist and well-educated. Is there still hate? Yes. Some of the reasons people hate there are different than in the South, where there's a different history of the Confederacy, of discrimination, and so on.”
The geographers also believe "present-day conditions" play a part in the high number of hate groups.
“There is a lot of uncertainty in the country today, and a lot of change. For those involved in hate group activities, they see their actions as a way to secure the future of their people. Unfortunately, that fear turns to hate, and in the worst case, violence,” said Richard Medina, assistant professor in the U.'s Department of Geography and senior author of the study.8 comments on this story
Medina hopes that the geographers' research will help educate people about "how much we don't know about hate" and motivate people to "start asking more questions."
“We have a long way to go before we really understand the drivers and patterns of hate in this country," he added.
According to the FBI, "groups that preach hatred and intolerance can plant the seed of terrorism here in our country." The FBI calls hate crimes the "highest priority" of its Civil Rights program.