Eye on KELOLAND: Hate in South Dakota

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 left us with jarring images that many won’t soon forget; a noose, a Confederate flag and a sweatshirt that read “Camp Auschwitz” were all there. The Confederate flag caught the attention of Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken.

“The visual that sticks with me is the gentleman walking through the Capitol holding that Confederate flag walking through the rotunda area, and what a disturbing visual that was,” TenHaken said.

This messaging isn’t limited to the assault that grabbed the world’s attention at the Capitol.

“For me to sit here as the mayor and say, ‘Well, that doesn’t exist here in Sioux Falls’ would be naïve, because certainly some of the same racial tensions that we saw bubble up in Washington and some of the slogans we saw on shirts can certainly exist here,” TenHaken said. “What I can do as mayor is just continue to promote a message of unity, of inclusiveness.”

Lori Miller of Rapid City is the research director for South Dakota Voices for Peace.

“My primary function is that I track the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant events that happen in South Dakota, and I figure out where they’re happening, whose sponsoring them, what are they saying at these events,” Miller said.

On that front, there has been a change.

“The anti-Islam, anti-immigrant hate network that I have been tracking, it seems to have kind of fallen apart, temporarily at least, there’s been a major upheaval in the major players there,” Miller said.

David Goldenberg, Midwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, overseas Midwestern states including South Dakota. The League has on its website what it calls a H.E.A.T. Map, using the word “heat” as an acronym for hate, extremism, anti-Semitism and terrorism. The map lists 56 incidents in South Dakota between 2019 and 2020. All but one were what the H.E.A.T Map calls “White Supremacist Propaganda.”

“We know that the group Patriot Front, which is an alt-right, white supremacist group has been responsible for the overwhelming number of white supremacist propaganda that ADL has tracked in South Dakota over the last year or two,” Goldenberg said.

According to the H.E.A.T Map, Patriot Front was responsible for about two-thirds of those 55 incidents. But in the digital age, it can be hard to measure a hate group’s support.

“Long gone are those days where you have to find a meeting in the darkness of the night to connect with other extremists,” Goldenberg said. “If you got one of these, within a matter of seconds, you can be connected with extremists not only in your state, not only in your country, but around the world.”

Sometimes it’s clear when someone has an allegiance to a hate group.

“At the Capitol on January 6th, you definitely, absolutely had the presence of well-known extremists, and very well-known, well-documented hate groups,” Goldenberg said.

Sometimes it’s not so clear.

“The biggest challenge that we have with extremists these days is because there are not as many card-carrying members of these different groups, the reality is is that the average person is being inspired and influenced by these groups,” Goldenberg said.

“Last summer, we’ve had it before, we’ve had KKK fliers distributed around our community, we, people found them in parks and things, and I’ve always wondered, is that just a prank, is that a teen trying to get a rise out of someone, or is it very real,” TenHaken said.

Whatever the intent or the maturity behind such imagery, the Ku Klux Klan stands for real, documented hate.

“I think that’s the sort of thing we just can’t tolerate, there’s just no place for that,” TenHaken said. “There’s no acceptance of that.”

You can break down, analyze and differentiate the ways someone might hate another person. Miller points out that there is a common theme to them.

“I think we spend a lot of time, oh it’s Anti-Islam, it’s anti-immigrant or it’s anti-black or whatever the case may be,” Miller said. “It’s hate. That’s what it boils down to, and it needs to be called that.”

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