It didn’t take long for police to say the shooter responsible for the Sikh temple massacre had Neo-Nazi ties. Today, news broke that the gunman Wade Michael Page also tried to join the Klu Klux Klan. Although, the shooting happened in Wisconsin, Detective Dave D’Amico, a member of the New Jersey Bias Crimes Association, tells Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the Garden State if far from being immune to hate crimes.
Citing data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which D’Amico says New Jersey has over four dozen organized hate groups that actually meet in the state.
“That’s not saying that these hate group members actually live in New Jersey but this seems to be their meeting location.”
D’Amico adds that according to statistics, New Jersey ranks second, behind California, when it comes to organized hate groups per capita. “It also has to do with the numbers when it comes to the actual victims of bias incidents and bias crimes in the state.”
New Jersey has seen incidents of hate crimes in the state recently, from attacks against synagogues in Bergen County earlier this year and the trial of Rutgers webcam spying case involving charges of bias. According to D’Amico, hate crimes can be independent of hate groups and that the majority of offenders are not members of organized hate groups.
“Hate crimes can be committed by common, average, everyday citizens who for one reason or another learn this hate behavior and then act on it. As a matter of fact, the majority of offenders here in Monmouth County and across the state of New Jersey tend to be juvenile offenders.”
D’Amico points out that membership to an organized hate group is not in itself a criminal act, saying it’s protected under the constitution as free speech.
“Members of organized hate groups don’t necessarily act on their hate and commit crime,” said D’Amico. “I think it’s important to say that the majority of the events that we’ve seen in recent history are done by lone wolves — members of organized hate groups but not acting on the auspice of the hate group itself.”
The Internet and other forms of communication have provided powerful tools for hate groups in spreading their message. “All you have to do is sit behind a computer in your home and press a button and send out a mass email or even send a text from your cellular device,” said D’Amico.
The mass shootings at a Colorado theater and aSikh temple in Wisconsin have sparked debate throughout the country about gun control. While New Jersey has some of the toughest laws in the nation when it comes to acquiring weapons, D’Amico says it doesn’t keep them out of the state. “A hate group member, just like any other criminal, has access to these weapons on the street not necessarily buying them through the legal means that the majority of citizens would do.”