The question at issue for a May 15 hearing of the House Oversight Committee was white supremacy and hate crimes in the United States, and how to deal with them. Witnesses were called who had expertise in the field, either through firsthand experience, or through research.
Among them were Reason writer Robby Soave. For providing the benefit of his extensive research into white supremacy, and the alt-right, he was called a “hate crime denier” by Andy Campbell in Huffington Post.
Soave brought a perspective that was not available from any of the other witnesses called. That he was invited to share the information he’d gleaned from interviews with racists speaks highly of the committee as interested in seeing as broad a picture of the problem of white supremacy as possible.
Soave responded on Twitter to Campbell’s inaccurate hit job, showing, accurately, that Campbell had attributed quotes Soave had provided from Richard Spencer as Soave’s own views. Sharing the words of a white supremacist with a congressional committee that directly asked you to do so is not white supremacist, nor white supremacist-adjacent. It is bearing witness.
This @HuffPost write-up of my testimony before Congress yesterday doesn't even exist in the same universe as what actually happened. @AndyBCampbell claims I "denied hate and white supremacy pose a threat at all," but even quotes me doing the opposite. https://t.co/5DblzHtxFJ pic.twitter.com/ZsGiB1mNVc
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) May 16, 2019
After Campbell published his article about the hearing, he took to Twitter, misclassifying Soave as “a lying dingus” and a “bad faith actor,” and falsely claiming that Suoave argued that “hate crime isn’t a problem.” Soave said nothing like that at all, and Campbell’s evidence is a quote Soave provided from Spencer, which does not at all represent Soave’s own views.
Soave published an article detailing his experience. “In my remarks,” he writes, “I tried to get across the point that the alt-right is a small fringe group, and that white nationalists are responsible for a relatively small number of murders relative to the overall violent crime rate.”
He backs this up with statistics going back to 1995, showing that while there is wider reporting of hate crimes across the country now than in the 1990s, the numbers are substantially lower than when fewer municipalities were reporting. In Soave’s view, that does not diminish the horribleness of hate crimes, but puts it into a wider context, which is why he was invited to speak.
While Campbell took to misrepresenting Soave’s role at the hearing, calling him names on Twitter, and printing parsed quotes that misrepresent his views, Soave published the entirety of his prepared remarks. Campbell was looking for a villain, and instead of digging into the facts, he cast Soave as a white supremacist, which could not be further from the truth.
Soave, author of “Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump,” was the last of a series of witnesses to deliver prepared remarks at this hearing. Those who came before had direct experience with white supremacist hate crimes and quantifying that data. Soave closed his remarks in noting that his “goal in bringing a degree of nuance to these facts and figures is not to minimize the real harm extremists have caused, but to discourage the kind of alarmism that can prompt overreaction on the part of authorities. Law enforcement should receive the resources they need to combat violence, threats, and property defacement, whether or not these crimes are motivated by hate, or impugn a specific group.”
In fact, Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, noted that many crimes that could be classified and reported as hate crimes are not, because crimes are easier to prosecute without the added burden of a hate-crime designation. Proving intent of hate is a higher burden of guilt, and when guilt can be proven without it, it is more expedient to do so in order to convict a criminal.
What gets lost in Campbell’s unsubstantiated abuse of Soave is that while hate crimes, white supremacist, and domestic terrorist violence exists in the United States, the biggest component of these vile ideologies is online. Additionally, there are data problems with reporting hate crimes, as it is not a mandatory requirement for any municipality or the FBI. Given these two realities, the inability to obtain accurate reporting, and the localizing of radical individuals online, making the story about another writer’s expert testimony is a waste of words.
Many of the proposed solutions to the problem of white supremacy and hate speech had to do with limited speech online. The Anti-Defamation League’s George Selim said, “Not only do white supremacist extremists spread this propaganda through fliers and banners and events, but on the internet, on social media as well… where they are proselytizing and conspiring and are less scrutinized than many instances by the public eye. Today’s propaganda is tomorrow’s hate and violence in our communities. More can, and must, be done to counter this threat and prevent it from getting worse.”
He went on to say that government and law enforcement must “work with the tech sector to enact common sense solutions to prevent the abuse on their platforms by white supremacists and their adherents.” What does that mean? It is essential that phrases such as “a common sense approach” be fully explained when applied to something as fundamental as free speech, and limitations thereof.
Campbell’s attacks on Soave ignored the real issues presented by this important hearing. So many people at this hearing had the best intentions for the furtherance of peace and civil rights in our country, and this kind of malignant misinterpretation only hurts the cause.
Soave is not a white supremacist, and Campbell’s insistence that he is does more to prove that much of the problem resides in how hate is defined, and how liberally and inaccurately the word is tossed around, than how widespread it actually is.