'It was personal': North Carolinians reporting more hate crimes than ever before, according to FBI data

BOONE, N.C. (WTVD) -- More than 200 hate crimes were reported across North Carolina in 2019, according to the latest FBI data.

Between 2018 and 2019, these incidents rose by 48%.



In the last two years, the number of religious-based hate crimes in the state has nearly doubled.

I-Team: Anti-Semitic incidents in North Carolina up in 2018

In 2018, swastikas were drawn inside the Freedom of Expression tunnels at Appalachian State University in Boone, along with the words, "The Holocaust was a good thing." Aaron Carpenter, now a senior at the university, remembered seeing the anti-Semitic grafitti and working with his fraternity brothers to cover it up.

"It was personal, right?" Carpenter said. "It was an attack on Jews on my campus."

Twenty of the hate crimes reported in 2019 were anti-Semitic.

These attacks are already surfacing in 2021. Just last week, UNC's Campus Y building was defaced with anti-Semitic symbols and racial epithets.

Law enforcement agencies are not required to report these crimes to the FBI. In 2019, around a third of agencies in North Carolina did not share their data.



Even with gaps in the data, the number of hate crimes reported in 2019 was the highest reported yet in the state. Of the crimes reported, 63% were related to the race and ethnicity of the victim, 20% were related to religion, 14% were related to the vicitm's sexual orientation and 3% to disability.

The number of hate groups in the state, however, is declining.

Earlier this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported the number of hate groups operating in North Carolina dropped from 32 to 29. Despite the decrease, SPLC officials said the number of groups is just one way to measure hate and racism throughout the country--and that the activity of these groups is increasing.

Michael Edison Hayden with the center explained the number of groups does not reflect the number of people who have radicalized over the past few years. He said that number is harder to quantify.

"This gradual unwillingness to disavow extremist groups is more what we are seeing than one extremist group taking over for another," Hayden said.

Nationwide, the SPLC reported 100 fewer groups with 898 currently operating across the U.S.

As some hate groups gather and communicate on more restricted areas of the Internet, tracking the groups and their members becomes more difficult. The SPLC added that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed more people online, rather than into formal gatherings, contributing to a rise in online activity rather than in-person events.

"One thing that is important to know is these groups, they require an audience to grow. They need oxygen." Hayden said. "It is a little bit more difficult for us to track but it's also difficult for them to achieve that goal, getting that bigger audience."

Meanwhile, people like Carpenter and Max Lazar, a PhD candidate at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, are fighting hate through education. Lazar teaches a seminar in confronting anti-Semitism and other forms of hate.

"We can think about the fact that anti-Semitism is just one of many forms of racism that we need to combat in our present day society, that we still need to really make a lot of forward progress on combating right here," Lazar said.

He added that spreading awareness about anti-Semitism is part of the battle, and making it a part of the larger fight against racism.

"We should start becoming aware of whether or not people that we know on just an everyday level might be holding views that could drift in this kind of a direction to even be worried about," Lazar said.

Carpenter agrees and has hosted several events against hate on his campus.

"Awareness is key," he said. "When people are aware, they know when something is wrong. That's the definition of awareness."
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