Map showing the number of active hate groups by state in 2008 from the Southern Poverty Law Center.  See the interactive version that lists the groups by state at http://www.splcenter.org/intel/map/hate.jsp

Map showing the number of active hate groups by state in 2008 from the Southern Poverty Law Center. See the interactive version of this map that lists the groups by state at http://www.splcenter.org/intel/map/hate.jsp

In Tangipahoa Parish Louisiana, slightly north of New Orleans, a white Justice of the Peace refused to marry an interracial couple:

NEW ORLEANS – Two civil and constitutional rights organizations called on a Louisiana justice of the peace to resign Friday after he refused to marry an interracial couple, saying any children the couple might have would suffer.

The leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union in Louisiana and the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice in New York said Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in the southeastern part of the state, should quit immediately. Earlier this month, Bardwell refused to issue a marriage license to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black.

Perhaps he’s worried the kids will grow up and be president,” said Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, referring to President Barack Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.

Obama’s deputy press secretary Bill Burton echoed those sentiments.

I’ve found that actually the children of biracial couples can do pretty good,” Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One as it flew to Texas.

Marjorie Esman of the ACLU said the group was calling on Bardwell to resign “before he infringes on the constitutional rights of another person.”

Humphrey and McKay were eventually married by another justice of the peace, but are now looking into legal action against Bardwell.

“A justice of the peace is legally obligated to serve the public, all of the public,” Quigley said. “Racial discrimination has been a violation of Louisiana and U.S. law for decades. No public official has the right to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow.”

Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said Bardwell’s views were not consistent with his or those of the local government. But as an elected official, Bardwell was not under the supervision of the parish government.

“However, I am certainly very disappointed that anyone representing the people of Tangipahoa Parish, particularly an elected official, would take such a divisive stand,” Burgess said in an e-mail. “I would hope that Mr. Bardwell would consider offering his resignation if he is unable to serve all of the people of his district and our parish.”

Bardwell, a Republican, has served as justice of peace for 34 years.

Racism is still a festering wound in the United States. And every so often it bursts open, pouring out its poison. As offensive as this is, in this incident no one was hurt or threatened with physical harm. Although Mr. Bardwell has shown a lengthy pattern of painful and discriminating behavior that did not offend his voters, this couple is both able and willing to seek legal redress. That has not always been true within my lifetime.

Recently there has been an upsurge in public racist rhetoric and hate speech, even making its way into what is loosely termed “news” on television. We saw it in the people who came armed to town meetings, especially during August, bearing overtly racist signs and symbols, and the way their behavior was covered by the news. The leadership of the Republican party has allied itself with those delivering this hate speech, which has escalated and increased the real threat of violence, by making it more socially acceptable. Especially since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party has made itself the party of white supremacy, particularly in the south. Much of Republican opposition to social programs that help all the citizens of the US, comes from resistance to the possibility that any tax money might be spent to help people of color.

We are still hearing this from members of Congress, before Obama’s speech to Congress on Health Care in September: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said … “I think he’s gonna have to express some humility … “ or: During President Obama’s major health care speech on Wednesday, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson (R) yelled out “You lie!”, something that has never before happened in a presidential speech to Congress.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC, traces the history and follows the activities of hate groups, as does the blog Orcinus. Both feature thoughtful articles and in depth research.

From a recent SPLC Report: Return of the Militias:

A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president’s country of birth.

Almost 10 years after it seemed to disappear from American life, there are unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990s was commonly called the militia movement. …

One big difference from the militia movement of the 1990s is that the face of the federal government — the enemy that almost all parts of the extreme right see as the primary threat to freedom — is now black. And the fact that the president is an African American has injected a strong racial element into even those parts of the radical right, like the militias, that in the past were not primarily motivated by race hate. Contributing to the racial animus have been fears on the far right about the consequences of Latino immigration.

… “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

In reference to Congressman Wilson’s outburst, and some of the other racist incidents and behavior around the country, I think President Carter is absolutely correct when he says:

“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American,” Carter told “NBC Nightly News.”

“I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shares the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans.”

President Carter grew up in racially segregated Georgia. I heard him say once in a television interview that he is good at monitoring elections around the world, because everything he has seen around the world he had already seen at home. He also knows first hand from long experience working through the civil rights struggles how to get people with uncompromisingly opposed views to talk to each other and to keep talking and to keep talking more, until some common ground and some progress can happen. We can learn a lot from his experience and wisdom. It is worth listening to what he has to say.