V. Hate Crime Perpetrators
Although hate crime and prejudice theories provide hypotheses for why individuals develop hatred or biases toward others, there is little information on how this prejudice/ bias translates into criminal or violent action. Research examining hate crime perpetrators has indicated the most common characteristic profile, situational factors associated with hate crime, an emerging typology, and knowledge of organized hate group members.
A. Characteristics of Hate Crime Perpetrators
Contrary to common belief, most hate crimes are not committed by people who belong to organized hate groups, but are generally perpetrated by individuals who are considered to be “average” teenagers or young adults. In fact, studies indicate that the most common profile of a hate crime perpetrator is that of a young, white male, who perpetrates with a small group of individuals, has had little previous contact with the criminal justice system, and is not a member of an organized hate group. Although examining overall data on hate crime perpetrators to form a broad picture of the offender may be important, it is cautioned that not all such perpetrators fit this profile. For example, a percentage of hate crime perpetrators do belong to organized hate groups, are non-white, and range in age from teenage to older adult.
B. Situational Factors Associated With Hate Crime
There are situational factors that seem to influence and interact with the human factors that affect the occurrence and the brutality of hate crime. These situational factors include that (a) the crime is often conducted in small groups, (b) the victim is most often a stranger, and (c) the crime is expressive (verbal harassment) rather than instrumental (physical aggression).
As previously mentioned, hate crimes are usually not committed by lone offenders, or by members of organized hate groups, but by small groups of young friends. This, coupled with the fact that most hate crime offenders do not have a history of hate crime perpetration, indicates that offender motivation for hate crime may have more to do with group dynamics than individual levels of bias or prejudice. Previous research on group and authority influence has unequivocally indicated its strong persuasive power. This strong influence stems from a few important dynamics. First, engaging in a group assault allows diffusion of responsibility. In other words, acting in a group allows each individual to “blame” the others and not take full responsibility for his or her actions or feel like he or she is anonymous. Second, since hate crime offenders are typically young males, there is a likelihood that each offender may attempt to impress the others as well as encourage another member in an effort to affiliate/identify with those individuals.
Two other factors that affect the brutality of hate crime are stranger victims and the motivation of offenders. Research indicates that it is much easier to dehumanize or hate a person who is not known personally. Thus, since hate crime perpetrators most often offend against strangers, this increases the likelihood that the victim will be dehumanized and hurt significantly more. In addition, since the motivation of the offenders is typically not instrumental (e.g., to gain money), there is no end point to the offending behavior. Offenses that are instrumental have a stopping point—the assault ends when the victim hands over his or her purse or wallet. Since hate crimes are expressive, there is no end point—making higher levels of brutality more likely.
C. Emerging Typology
In recent years, researchers have begun to examine possible types of hate crime offenders. Thus far, four types of hate crime perpetrators have been identified: thrill seekers, reactive/defensive, mission, and retaliatory (McDevitt, Levin, & Bennett, 2002). The most common type of hate crime offender is the thrill type. As stated previously, these are usually young males who act in groups. They do not belong to organized hate groups and describe their offense motivation as being bored or looking for some excitement. Although these individuals may have some level of prejudice/ bias, their motivation seems to be influenced more by thrill seeking and peer influence. Studies indicate that this type of hate crime offender accounts for approximately two thirds of hate crimes.
The second type is the reactive or defensive type. This offender type commits a hate crime because the person feels that his or her rights or territory has been invaded. For example, the offender may engage in a hate crime because he doesn’t feel like a subordinate group member should live in his neighborhood. The third type of hate crime perpetrator is the mission type. This type is the least frequent and usually includes those individuals who are organized hate group members on a “mission” to rid the world of what/who they consider to be immoral or wrong, or to keep a race “pure” and separate. The fourth type, the retaliatory type, commits hate crime in order to “get back at” or “get even with” a group because the perpetrator witnessed or heard of this group committing hate crime against his or her own group.
VI. Organized Hate Group Members
The Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that there are approximately 670 different hate groups in the United States. Most organized hate crime groups focus on one or more of the following: racial bias (e.g., anti-white or anti-black), religious bias (e.g., anti-Jewish or anti-Catholic), ethnic/national origin bias (e.g., anti-Arab or anti- Hispanic), or sexual orientation bias (e.g., anti-gay or anti-transgender). Although there is no single profile of an organized hate crime group member, research has indicated that it is not necessarily the individual’s bias/ prejudice that gets the person involved, but the need to affiliate. It seems an individual’s need to belong may make the person more susceptible to recruitment and then, once a member, to become biased against particular groups. In other words, racism may not cause someone to join a hate group, but joining the hate group may cause racism.