- They started on May 18 when Robert Richardson, on his day off from work, stepped out to mow his lawn and saw a yellowed pattern burned into the grass. Standing over it, he couldn't decipher what it said.
"I knew it spelled something but I couldn't see what it said," said Richardson, 43, an African-American, who earlier this year moved into the neighborhood.
He got on the roof and saw "I hate" followed by a crude slur.
"Nothing like that has ever happened to me before. It was really a shock," said Richardson, who grew up in the Bay Area.
Responding to Richardson's phone call, sheriff investigators went out to canvass the neighborhood for possible witnesses. Then they saw swastikas, a Nazi symbol widely used by hate groups.
Houses on both sides of the street were targeted for vandalism, but not all. Even a welcoming house with benches laid out on the front porch and a small teddy bear dangling from a heart-shaped "Welcome" sign on the front door. That place, too, was hit.
"I can't recall anything of this magnitude happening in our jurisdiction," said Deputy Terrance Helm of the sheriff's office. "We are treating this very seriously."
Worth noting is that the piece also examines something I recently discussed as part of a talk I gave in Davis, Calif., recently -- namely, the profile of a typical hate-crime offender:
- While the county has not drawn up a profile, experts in hate crimes say offenders are typically male, usually teenagers and young adults, said Jack Levin, a sociology professor at Boston's Northeastern University and co-author of Hate Crimes: The Rising Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed.
They tend to live close to the neighborhoods in which the hate crimes occur, and 95 percent of the time are not associated with any hate group.
"Hates crimes are acts of domestic terrorism and designed to send a message," Levin said. "You come to this neighborhood, the same thing will happen to you."
The Santa Clara incidents don't appear to be isolated, either. A few days later, a school in Orinda was hit with similar graffiti.
At some point, as these incidents pile up, we're going to have to realize that we're looking at a different America. After years of right-wing rule, intolerance is the order of the day: it rules everything from the airwaves to the backrooms. And it is manifesting itself in the streets in an all-too-predictable fashion.
Brad Knickerbocker at the Christian Science Monitor recently examined the problem and began asking the big question, to wit: Why is this happening?
- A recent spate of hate-related incidents around the country has raised a troubling question: Is there something about the mood in the US today -- perhaps spurred by Americans dying in combat abroad, plus the cultural and political war at home over issues like same-sex marriage, judgeships, and immigration -- that is leading in some instances to threats and attacks?
"Public discourse has become meaner and more cruel-spirited in general," says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who monitors hate groups and extremist activities in the US.
Recent incidents include cross burnings in North Carolina, threats against gay students on an Oregon campus, disruptions of anti-immigration meetings by those charging border vigilantes with racism, anti-Semitic graffiti in the Queens borough of New York, a whites-only group recruiting in Michigan, white separatists harassing Japanese residents in Las Vegas, and a rise in anti-Muslim activity.
Such trends can be difficult to gauge. States and localities use different definitions and reporting requirements. As the subject grows in public consciousness, incidents that may have gone unreported in the past now become known, giving the sense of an increasing problem.
But, says Chip Berlet, an analyst at Political Research Associates in Somerville, Mass., who specializes in hate groups and far-right activity, "I have seen what appears to be an increase in anger toward gay people and immigrants, as well as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."
Where does this start? It starts with Tom DeLay and Co. killing federal hate-crimes legislation and demanding the heads of the judiciary for failing to conform to the demands of the religious right. It starts with Ann Coulter and Co. urging on the virtues of a little "local fascism" when dealing with "treasonous" liberals. It starts with Rush Limbaugh doling out fresh doses of liberal-hate to millions of listeners every day. Oh, and did we mention Fox News?
At the root of this liberal-bashing, as I've argued for a long time, is a hatred of multiculturalism. What happens on the street level is that all of the minorities whose presence is embraced by multiculturalism are the natural first targets of this intolerance as it festers into white working-class resentment and finally action.
Remember, too, that multiculturalism arose specifically as a response to white supremacism -- which, in fact, it replaced as the reigning national racial ethos. Those who constantly disparage multiculturalism seem oddly reticent about what they'd replace it with -- except, of course, white supremacists like David Duke and Billy Roper, who are fairly clear on the subject.
It's time, I think, for liberals to wake up and listen to what's marching their way.