Last fall, a white supremacist named Hardy Lloyd, who recently had been released from federal prison on probation, resumed his old habits by spreading vitriolic racist and anti-Semitic literature around Squirrel Hill. He also was caught on video giving a Nazi salute and yelling “white power” at a protest in Mt. Lebanon.
While those particular acts are not actionable hate crimes under the law, Lloyd nevertheless is now back in prison for other deeds that constituted violations of his probation, thanks to the diligence of citizens reporting his activities to the appropriate authorities.
After hearing about what Lloyd was doing, and where he was doing it, local law enforcement and the FBI began to track him and caught him in violation of several conditions of his supervision. That is why it is essential for citizens to report any questionable act of hate and not to make their own determination of whether offensive graffiti, literature or spoken words are violations of the law.
That was the chief message conveyed at a “Civil Rights Symposium on Hate Crimes” at Rodef Shalom Congregation on June 13, open to the community at large and hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
More than 100 people from a diverse array of faith communities turned out to hear representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI discuss the laws that govern hate crimes and what to do when encountering hate speech. The symposium was moderated by Brad Orsini, the Federation’s director of Jewish Community Security.
“We are encouraging the community to report this behavior when they witness signs of hate, whether verbal, graffiti or on some online platform,” said Orsini. “It is important to be aware and report signs of hatred, as they can sometimes evolve into a hate crime.”
In 2016, there were 6,063 hate crime incidents involving 7,509 victims in the United States, according to an FBI report. Almost 60 percent of those victims were targeted because of their race or ethnicity, about 20 percent were victimized because of their religion and about 17 percent were targeted because of their sexual orientation.
Orsini has held his post with the Federation for about a year and a half, he said, and in that time, he has seen in Pittsburgh incidents of swastikas drawn on buildings, the display of Nazi flags, and hate literature aimed at both the African American and Jewish communities. When evaluating whether an act is a hate crime, the perpetrator’s intent and capability to do harm are paramount, he said.
Orsini and his panelists distinguished between hate crimes and hate speech — which is a constitutionally protected right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But the First Amendment does not protect “true threats,” said Greg Heeb, a special agent of the FBI.
Hate crimes are defined as being motivated by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, and includes crimes against property, Heeb said.
“There are occasions when a threat itself can be considered a hate crime, when it puts the recipient in fear of bodily harm,” he explained.
Still, the difference between hate crimes and hate incidents is not always clear.
“One of the most challenging parts of my job is assessment as to whether something is a hate incident or a hate crime,” Heeb continued.
“We don’t always have definitive answers,” admitted Matt Trosan, an FBI supervisory intelligence analyst. “The definition of the law is not ideal. But the good news is we want you to report everything, whether it’s a hate crime, or a hate incident or if you’re not sure. We connect the dots, but if we don’t have the dots to connect, we can’t do it.”
Those in attendance were urged to report incidents in a timely fashion.
“You have to report these incidents when they occur, so law enforcement can make the determination,” stressed U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan. “The quicker you can get that information to law enforcement, the quicker they can figure it out.”
Orsini recounted the 2009 case of a cross burning in Indiana County, perpetrated by three young men, and considered at first by most residents of the town to be “a prank.”
The FBI quickly learned the identities of the perpetrators, so the case was not a “whodunnit,” but a “why did they do it?” according to Orsini.
Once the FBI learned that the cross burning was motivated by racial bias against a particular African American, and that the perpetrators had been practicing burning crosses beforehand, the case could be prosecuted as a federal hate crime, and the offenders imprisoned.
“That’s why it’s so important to report this stuff,” Orsini said.
Hate incidents and crimes can be reported to Orsini at 412-992-5229 or firstname.lastname@example.org. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.