Alittle while ago I attended a fundraising banquet for the Orange County/Long Beach Region of the Anti-Defamation League. I had always thought that the league was founded by Jews to fight and protect against anti-Semitism, and basically I was right. But what I did not know is that this is only part of the story.
According to the presentation that evening, as well as to the information at www.adl.org, the league was founded in 1913 to stop the defamation of and violence directed toward all people based upon their minority status. So the league is there to counter fear, hate, bigotry, and political or religious extremism wherever it is found, and to protect and pursue justice for all people, including blacks, Latinos and Muslims, in addition to Jews.
How do the people of the league do their work? They monitor current events, public displays and periodicals all over the world to get the latest information and investigate what members of various hate, extremism and domestic terrorism groups are doing, and then make that information available to any legitimate law enforcement, media or public groups that request it. They are also particularly adept at monitoring the Internet, which is difficult but critically important in today’s world.
Where is the need to be found? You might be surprised. Contrary to popular understanding, there are quite a few members of hate and racial supremacist groups, even here in Orange County. For example, Public Enemy Number 1, which is affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood, is a growing amalgam of white racist skinhead, street and prison gangs that originated and is still based in Orange County. In fact, there are five or six significant white supremacist gangs in our county, including North West Orange County Skins, Golden State Skins and OC Skins.
Their major criminal activity is being involved in the illegal drug trade, but they are also involved in identity theft, fraud, assaults and other violent crimes. There are also white power rock bands that help the racist gang members seek a common culture, here and abroad, that use lyrics that attack and dehumanize minorities.
Often the band members are covered with tattoos with neo-Nazi and other racist symbols and slogans, and, as you can tell from the names of the bands, such as Extreme Hatred, Angry Aryans, and Aggravated Assault, they glorify violence against minorities.
So when law enforcement officials need to know about the roots of these gangs, or what some of the tattoos or graffiti mean, they come to the league for information.
Some of this information is provided to law enforcement in personal meetings, but most of it is passed along in intensive three-day training schools for senior American law enforcement personnel. In addition, the league holds a national counter-terrorism training seminar yearly in Israel, which gives American law enforcement leaders the opportunity to learn counter-terrorism strategies and tactics from the Israel Police’s most experienced commanders, as well as from senior military, security and intelligence officials. These briefings cover such things as suicide bombing prevention, terrorist attack responses, airport and mall security, terrorism’s psychological impact, and police, military and rescue coordination.
The league also publishes an updated encyclopedia of contemporary extremism, as well as a brochure that is a full-color guide to common symbols, logos and tattoos used by hate groups and extremists. Both of these resources are available at www.adl.org/terrorism/symbols.
Other programs offered by the league include Peer Training, where students learn to work with their peers to confront prejudice, and Names Can Really Hurt Us, which helps schools respond to name calling, bullying, and harassment.
Another successful league educational program, Campus of Difference, helps college administrators, faculty and students examine stereotypes, expand cultural awareness, and combat bigotry.
More locally, when any of these cowardly acts of hate are found in individual neighborhoods, it is the league that responds to give support and guidance to the intended and unintended victims, and help them cope with and guard against these dangers. But the league always acts with a sensitivity to civil liberties and due-process concerns.
Like with any other organization, neither I nor anyone else will agree with all of their positions. For example, the league is opposed to school vouchers, believing that they could be a threat to the separation of church and state.
In that regard, I plan to discuss the issue with some of them to see if they will change that opposition.
With school vouchers it is the parents who are choosing how to spend the education money, not the government. Therefore, a program of school vouchers is virtually the same thing as the long-successful GI Bill program of educational benefits. In that program, military veterans have spent their government benefit payments for tuition and other educational expenses at religious universities like Notre Dame, Southern Christian University and others for decades, without any constitutional or practical problems.
But our society needs devoted and dedicated institutions that are knowledgeably guarding us from the small minority of extremists who, for their own unbalanced reasons, would spread fear, hatred and bigotry as far into our world as they are able. And because there is no other agency around keeping its finger on the pulse of this volatile area like the league, these people are deserving of our praise, gratitude and respect. I plan to support the league in the future, and I hope you will as well.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts” (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website at www.judgejimgray.com .