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Studying Hate Today Means Tracking How Ideas, People And Even Weapons Move Around The Globe

Katie Blackley
A member of the Westboro Baptist Church protests in Pittsburgh in October 2017. The church is classified as a hate group by the Southen Poverty Law Center.

Hatred manifests itself in flyers distributed in certain neighborhoods, in internet postings, and as Pittsburghers know too well--through violent, even deadly acts. Is the hate movement increasing? 

Kathleen Blee, dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the College of General Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, says yes, and its participants have learned from their forebearers.

Racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic acts by groups and networks of people rose 17% nationwide and 28% in Pennsylvania in 2017, according to data collected by the FBI. Blee says the numbers belie a big shift from hateful encounters in decades past.

“It was a very different movement in the sense that it was a majoritarian movement,” she says. “It was a middle class movement. It was a pretty open movement. Today, the racist movement is more undercover; it’s not a majority movement. It is alarmingly large, but it’s certainly a very marginal movement in this society. Its power comes from its hatred, its violence, but not from its numerical power.”

State lawmakers announced a package of bills Thursday stemming from the Tree of Life attack in Pittsburgh last year. Blee says, going forward, her research will focus on the increasingly global nature of white supremacism.

She joins The Confluence to discuss the history of racist movements in the U.S., why people join hate groups, how social media is affecting their membership and what these groups might look like in the future.

Credit Marc Levy / AP
A row of cells at Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill in Camp Hill, Pa.

Later in the program:

Vernal pools – the puddles formed from melted snow and spring showers – dry up by summer. The pools are crucial to frogs and salamanders who return to the same ones each year, but because they disappear, developers may build on or around the pools and disrupt amphibians’ paths, forcing them to cross roads and developments. For the Allegheny Front, Anne Danahy reports. 

Soon after former East Pitttsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld shot and killed unarmed teen Antwon Rose last summer, activists called for the removal of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala over criticism he took too long to file charges against the officer. Though Zappala later decided to charge Rosfeld, Democrat Turahn Jenkins announced that he would challenge Zappala in the May 21 primary election. 90.5 WESA’s An-Li Herring takes a look at the upcoming race.

Two competing bills in the state legislature would change the way judges are selected. One would rely on merit selection, switching from a statewide election by voters to appointment by officials. The other bill would keep the election process, but have judges be elected by district, not statewide. WESA’s capitol bureau chief Katie Meyer reports on what these bills could mean for Pennsylvania.

And the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston recently addressed the right for inmates addicted to opioids to continue to receive medication to treat their addiction while in prison. University of Pittsburgh law professor and WESA legal analyst David Harris says the case could set a precedent for other cases throughout the United States. Though the Boston ruling did not impact Pennsylvania prisons, WESA’s Sarah Boden reports that the state Department of Corrections released a new policy days later that allows some people entering Pennsylvania’s state-run prisons will to be able to get medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders.

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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