The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization founded amidst the cauldron of racial strife that was our society fifty years ago, to this day carries forward its mission to identify, track and counter hatred and bigotry in those rare and isolated instances where it still persists in our great nation.
The SPLC provides a "Hate Map" on its web site, an interactive reference that profiles clusters of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists and others, by city and state.
According to the SPLC, "All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people… This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports… Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing."
You'd think criteria like that would cast a rather large net, but in fact, fewer than a thousand of these groups are singled out, and only 42 are in New York State.
Two are located right here in Niagara County, one being the "Racial Nationalist Party of America", led by a 64-year-old, lifelong neo-Nazi named Karl Hand who lives in a run-down apartment complex on Robinson Road in Lockport, where he publishes a newsletter named "White Voice" ("Building the White Community for a White Tomorrow") and maintains his organization's web site, on which the reader is told, reassuringly, that the white supremacists "are not against any individual or group who we feel does not pose a threat to our own survival."
Hand and his delusional followers (although it's not known for sure how many there are) were in fact exposed by Reporter editor Mike Hudson in the pages of this newspaper back in 2001.
The other SPLC-identified hate group is based right here in Niagara Falls.
While we have it on good information that there are exceedingly few Nazis living in Lockport, it may come as a surprise to the approximately 24% of Niagara Falls residents who identify as Catholics, and affiliate with a vibrant community of churches and schools as well as a large and influential Catholic university, that this city has the shameful distinction of being the home of an outfit that calls itself "Catholic Family Ministries, Inc. (CFN), which espouses "radical traditional Catholicism".
According to the SPLC, radical traditional Catholicism "may make up the largest single group of serious anti-Semites in America, subscrib(ing) to an ideology that is rejected by the Vatican and some 70 million mainstream American Catholics. Many of their leaders have been condemned and even excommunicated by the official church."
The "Catholic Family News", published monthly by CFN-founder John Vennari, is reported to have tarred Judaism as "part of the kingdom of Satan" and contends that the present-day Church is rife with "Jewish errors". Copies of the notorious "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", which was in the possession of Timothy McVeigh on his arrest as the Oklahoma City bomber, have reputedly been on sale at CFN conferences.
In a readily-accessible web issue of the "News", Vennari is incensed over a visit by Indian Hindus to the Fatima shrine. "Thus the Hindus spent the morning (at the shrine) worshiping their false gods, which are nothing more than demons…" asserts ex-Catholic monk Vennari, and with respect to Hinduism, "All the invocations of the pagans are hateful to God because all their gods are devils."
John Vennari, who is active on Facebook, did not respond to an inquiry there, or to a voicemail message. The organization lists post office box numbers for Niagara Falls on both sides of the international border.
While the Buffalo News has, on occasion, covered John Vennari, his organization and their fringe beliefs, a search of the Niagara Gazette, strangely, does not register any "hits" when searching on Vennari, the Catholic Family News or Catholic Family Ministries.
Unexplainable, in light of hateful and racist graffiti spray-painted on the former Moore Business Forms headquarters building on Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls last April, owned by B.F. Patel, an Indian-American, too offensive to be repeated here, or the February, 2007 desecration of the Temple Beth Israel on College Avenue in Niagara Falls with anti-Semitic slogans.
Let's lose the hate, and accept and love our brothers and sisters without reservation.
We are Charlie.