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By Patrick R. Riccards

Originally posted on Medium.

In New York City, it’s up 14%. Up 27% in Houston and up 30% in the City of Brotherly Love. In the City of Angels, it is up 41%. And in Chicago, it is up a whopping 85%.

Depending on our perspectives, we could try guessing the activity. Car thefts? COVID hospitalizations? Unemployment? Public school enrollment? Births?

Unfortunately, none of these would be the correct answer. These increases belong to the national jump in hate crimes, rising 22% from 2021 to 2022, according to new data from Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. These numbers reflect increases in anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Jewish, anti-Asian, and anti-Latino hate crimes.

The trend was not limited to our nation’s largest cities. Communities between 500,000 and 1 million residents also saw significant growth in hate crimes, with Kansas City (32%) and Sacramento (47%) leading the way.

And for those who distrust the statistics, believing the books can be cooked to prove any point, one only needs to look at the Happiest Place on Earth, where the images of neo-Nazis and swastikas at Disney World should be enough to demonstrate that we are facing a very real, and growing, problem here in the United States.

Whether we want to accept it or not, ideology-driven violence is on the rise. We can try to explain it, as we have with many of those recently sentenced for the January 6 attack. We can try to minimize it, as we have with hate-driven shootings in Pittsburgh, Charleston, Buffalo, Orlando, and, most recently, Jacksonville. And we can try to isolate it, as we have tried with Charlottesville.

But we cannot deny that acts of violent white supremacy serve as a clear and present danger to our nation, our communities, and our people.

Of course, it would be pollyannish of us to think that it is possible to rid society of hate. Hate is one of the most powerful emotions out there, with its impact traced back to the Old Testament. We hate because we are scared. We hate because we feel misunderstood. We hate because we feel we are being denied what is ours. We hate because we don’t understand, or respect, differences. We hate because we have been taught to. And we hate because we feel we have to.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. It can’t continue to be this way. We must believe that there can be life after hate, that those who have committed violent acts of extremism can learn from their misdeeds and can transform themselves into positive, productive members of our civil society.

Such transformation is not easy, but it can be done. It requires that we demonstrate the compassion necessary for individuals seeking a pathway out of violent extremism, helping them through a process of rehumanization and growth.

It requires empathy, as we engage with open minds and hearts to support change and healing. This means never condoning hurtful actions, while not condemning individual human beings.

It requires integrity, modeling the standards and leadership necessary to do the right thing on behalf of ourselves and our community.

It requires a belief in redemption, believing that true change is possible. We can only inspire and sustain individual change by forgiving and empowering.

And it requires accountability, being honest about our past words and deeds and the negative impact it has had on others. Accountability transcends punishment and exists independent of forgiveness. But it is the only true response to the explanations, minimizations, and isolations we are seeing far too often.

As one who helps individuals disengage and deradicalize from violent extremist groups and online hate spaces at Life After Hate, I’m often asked if these people, and this work, is worth all of the time, effort, and money required. After all, with so many health, education, social service, justice, and equity issues in society, surely there must be other needs that are more worthy than violent extremists seeking to write a second chapter in their lives.

My answer often focuses on the costs if we do nothing, and the impact that comes from focusing on anger and spite when compassion and accountability are in such need. Yes, we can respond to the devils on our shoulders, deeming those seeking to exit lives of ideology-driven violence as unworthy. Or we can answer to the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln once said, model the behaviors we need more of to redeem, to heal, and to improve our own society.

Let there be no mistake, violent white supremacy is a serious threat to the United States and its people. Ideology-driven violence is domestic terrorism, plain and simple. They are not actions that we can ignore, excuse, or accept. We should be outraged seeing Nazi salutes outside of Mickey Mouse’s house and we should be horrified to see hate crimes on the continual rise on our streets and in our towns.

These are also actions that demand more than the collective clutching our pearls or the ascribing of blame for such behaviors. It cannot be clearer that we need direct, proactive, and proven responses for those seeking to exit violent extremist organizations and online hate spaces.

We begin to reverse this trend by seeking to help those who want help, but don’t know if it is possible or if they are worthy of it. We begin to reverse this trend by practicing compassion through accountability. And we begin to reverse this trend by showing that there is, indeed, life after hate.