In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified 1,020 hate groups in the United States, more than any other year since 2000 when the total was at 599.
But the growing number of hate groups in the United States has not reached the confines of the Illinois Valley.
Word of organized activities promoting racist propaganda has not reached the eyes and ears of local law enforcement in most regards.
“We’ve had very little of that kind of intelligence, if any,” said Peru police chief Doug Bernabei.
La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton also could not recall many instances of groups organizing to spread prejudices against race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.
“If there is anything that comes up, we would general get a call. There are notifications,” Templeton said.
Local law enforcement is in contact with the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center (STIC) to help monitor these groups. And the state is in contact with federal officials to continue the chain of communication.
What happens if a group comes here?
The First Amendment protects a group’s rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. If a hate group isn’t committing crimes, there isn’t really anything law enforcement can do to prevent them from setting up shop in any area community.
“They do have a right to hate who they want to hate,” Templeton said.
But no two groups are alike. Some groups try to operate in secret while others will over exaggerate their supporters and activities. So, Templeton said there is no definitive protocol on how to handle a group until they actually become a presence.
“If it did happen, it would have to be on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
The Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center did not respond to questions about their operations by press time.
What is a hate group?
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines hate groups as “as an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
Their list depicts groups that “vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
SPLC states their criteria is similar to how the FBI defines a hate crime and the organization publishes a yearly census of hate groups as a hate map every February after a year of monitoring by analysts and researchers.
How close have they come to the area?
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the only time a hate group has established itself in La Salle County in the past two decades was a chapter of World Church of the Creator located in Sheridan in 2000. The group had 10 established chapters in Illinois that year. The group is label as a racial holy war-promoting, neo-Nazi hate group whose roots are traced back to electric can opener inventor Ben Klassen in the 1970s. Klassen died in 1993, but several years later the group saw a rebirth under Matthew F. Hale under the name New Church of the Creator, later changed to World Church of the Creator. Hale operated out of his father’s home in East Peoria. Hale made headlines in 1999 when his application for a license to practice law was rejected by the Illinois Bar Committee on Character and Fitness because they found he was not morally fit. Hale appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court but lost his bid. A friend of Hale’s, Ben Smith, went on a shooting rampage in 1999, killing two people and wounding nine in Illinois and Indiana. The spree was spurred by the refusal to grant Hale a law license, SPLC states.
Hale was arrested in 2003 and charged with solicitation of murder after attempting to hire an FBI informant to kill Judge Joan Lefkow. The judge had ruled against Hale and his group in a trademark infringement complaint by a non-racist church already going by the World Church of the Creator name. Hale was sentenced to 40 years in prison — time he is still serving.
A lot of the rhetoric of the World Church of the Creator still survives through statewide organizations such as The Creativity Movement and The Creativity Alliance.
What about hate crime?
While hate groups have not really stretched into La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties, hate crimes have occurred.
“We have had some hate crimes in the past,” Templeton said. “But they were isolated incidents. They were not tied to a group.”
La Salle County reported one hate crime in 2012 based on race, one in 2011 based on religion and one in 1998 based on race, according to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Annual Report. The city of La Salle had the most recent occurrence in 2014 when a man punched and kicked another man while uttering slurs about his sexuality, according to NewsTribune archives. La Salle and the village of Neponset also reported one hate crime each in 1996 based on race.