Anti-Defamation League coordinator brings interest on hate crimes

At a recent lecture, students were encouraged to imagine a world without hate.

Heidi Budaj, regional coordinator of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), educated students about the importance of fair treatment for all.

Budaj described popular extremist groups, explaining to audience members about the characteristics that define them.

She said neo-Nazis are a popular group. Their aim is for life to return to the way it was when Adolph Hitler was in power, and they even held a protest when the Holocaust museum was opened. They support ideas such as homophobia, nationalism and racism.

The racist skinheads are another group of extremists. Budaj said they are often unaffiliated with a large group, which makes it difficult for the ADL to identify and track them.

Budaj said their hatred is broader.

“It’s much more of a subculture that underlies the hate for the general,” Budaj said. “They feel that they are battling for the white race, (and) that they are on the frontlines of a war that must be won.”

The United States’ oldest terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was also discussed, and Budaj made it clear that there isn’t just one group. There are several, ranging from a few group members to about a dozen which may be organized like a militia or completely disorganized.

Budaj said this group will always be well known, even outside the United States.

“For those of us who have either actual memories or have studied the Civil Rights era, seeing a picture of a group of men standing in a circle in white robes and those hats, there’s a habitual reaction to that,” Budaj said. “Just an image can still create fear and feelings of discomfort.”

Budaj pointed out that many names of KKK groups include the word “knight,” such as Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Invisible Nights of the Fiery Cross and the Knights Party.

She said the meaning is intentional.

“In history, the knights are the ones who are fighting for the right side,” Budaj said. “The knights are coming to the rescue of a damsel in distress. They see themselves as the saviors of their white children.”

Budaj also touched upon a phrase white nationalists use known as the Fourteen Words. The phrase is, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”

While some individuals get the entire phrase tattooed on their body, others simply get a tattoo of the number 14.

Criminal justice junior Jerry Wilkes said Budaj’s lecture was eye opening, and he realized how much of a problem the extremist groups really are.

“Hate crimes are bigger than people really realize, and lot of it doesn’t go reported,” Wilkes said. “Just because you can’t see someone’s tattoos or the symbols they have (doesn’t) mean that they are not part of a crime of hate.”

Budaj encouraged the university to organize a cultural day to help students understand and be more accepting of each other’s customs and beliefs. When students come to college, they are immersed in cultures they have never before had access to.

“This is an opportunity for many people who may have grown up in a community that’s not diverse to have their first friend who’s not from their cultural background,” Budaj said.

She said acceptance is the first step to eradicating extremism and hate crimes, and that everyone can play a part.

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