There is a fine line between free speech and hate crimes.
That was a point made Wednesday by two Pittsburgh FBI supervisory intelligence analysts during a seminar for the Indiana County branch of the NAACP on behavioral indicators for “White-Racially Motivated Extremism.”
Or “white supremacy,” as supervisor John P. Pulcastro said he still thinks of it.
“We need to be part of the community,” supervisor Matthew Trosan told an audience of more than 30 during a two-hour discussion at the Chevy Chase Community Center in White Township. “We need your eyes and ears. The more help we can get, the better.”
An important reason: The FBI can’t surf social media seeking clues.
“We can take tips,” Pulcastro said. “We’re begging you to report this stuff, no matter how insignificant it may be.”
“The more we know, the better we are able to work together,” said Indiana County NAACP President Dr. Carolyn Princes.
Either way, beyond the fine line of free speech, they defined hate crimes as:
• Criminal acts based on intolerance
• Purposefully intimidating speech
• Actions that can be interpreted by a reasonable person to be a serious intent to cause harm
They also showed examples of where that line might be crossed, as in the case of vandalism at a church or writing “Kill Jews” on a garage belonging to a Jewish property owner.
Trosan conceded that the pictures were uncomfortable to see, but “we need to address the elephant in the room.” They detailed federal legislation covering hate crimes:
• The Church Arson Prevention Act
• The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, covering disability, gender identity and sex orientation cases not yet covered by Pennsylvania law nor that in 20 other states
• The Fair Housing Act
Trosan deals with civil rights cases; Pulcastro works with domestic terrorism cases. They pointed to a number of social media utilized by those engaged in racially motivated extremism, including:
• GAB, a self-proclaimed “social network that champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online”
• Discord, designed originally for the gaming community but specializing in text
“Don’t downplay video games, either,” Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said.
• BitChute, a video hosting service using peer-to-peer WebTorrent technology, set up as a way to avoid content rules enforced on platforms
• 8Chan or InfinityChan, described on Wikipedia as “an imageboard website composed of user-created message board”
Also used, the FBI agents said, are messenger services Telegram, Wickr and WhatsApp.
Trosan, Pulcastro and Dougherty were among several law enforcement representatives in attendance, including Indiana Borough Police Chief Justin Schawl and Trooper Aaron Allen, formerly Greensburg-based but now heritage affairs liaison officer for the state police in Harrisburg.
“We work together a lot more than people realize,” Dougherty said.
One of those in the audience mentioned how a rock was thrown on her front yard, touting a Ku Klux Klan meeting. She said she called the state police but received no response.
“A car should have been at your door that day,” the Indiana district attorney said.
“I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” Princes said.
“We have to do our best to identify that group,” Trosan said. “We are very limited as to what we can do with that one piece … but we need as many of those puzzle pieces as possible.”
Princes said Schawl and Allen will be invited back to deal with local issues in the Indiana area. The local branch of the NAACP meets on the third Wednesday of each month.
The federal agents provided contact information. The FBI in Pittsburgh can be reached at (412) 432-4000, with Pulcastro’s direct line being (412) 432-4243 and Trosan’s being (412) 432-4461, or at www.fbi.gov/tips.
There also is the Western Pennsylvania All Hazards Fusion Center, an agency designated by the governor of Pennsylvania to work with federal agencies. It can be reached at WPAHFC@pa.gov or by calling (724) 778-8801.