The eyes of 30 police officers from various Cleveland suburbs were fixed on the front, where an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) investigative researcher was lecturing and showing slides.
Projected on the large screen was a disturbing picture of an Ohio hate-crime extremist with tattoos covering most of his body.
Each of the individuals pictured, in turn, were identified as members of different extremist hate groups. The police officers also saw the different symbols each group used, learned about their background and the tactics they use to transmit their message, ranging from rallies to violence.
The local officers and ADL staffers were part of an ADL law-enforcement training held in Warrensville Heights recently. The training session was presented in two parts: the first on extremism and domestic terrorism, the second on how to define, identify and investigate a hate crime.
The first session covered “understanding the nature of hate groups and what is out there in Ohio,” explains Shari Kochman, ADL regional director.
The ADL presenter, whose identity must remain anonymous for security reasons, covered the basic types of hate groups in the U.S.: white supremacists, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, traditional supremacists, Christian identity, and racist prison gangs.
She also discussed phrases or unique language an extremist may use when being arrested, such as telling a fellow extremist “five words.” The phrase means “I have nothing to say” and communicates that they are not going to talk to the police and law enforcement officials.
At the close of each training, Kochman hopes “at the very least” those who attend are more aware of the ADL as a resource. “If law enforcement knows that extremist activity is beginning, the ADL may already have background on this individual and group,” she points out.
Officer James Franey, assistant chief of the South Euclid Police Department, who attended the session with 12 others from his department, says he was surprised to learn how many hate groups there are in Ohio. “When you think of a hate group, you normally think along racial lines,” he says. “But we learned just how culturally diverse hate groups are in this state.”
Commander Joellen O’Neill of the Cleveland Police Department says she took notes on what “these groups look like, how they dress and carry themselves.” O’Neill anticipates the training will help officers know “what things to look for,” she says. “If they go into a house, they may see things (tattoos, graffiti) that alert them that this person might be in some type of terrorism group.”
The second session, led by Clare Pinkert, ADL Midwest area civil rights counsel, focused on “legally, what a hate crime in Ohio is,” Kochman explains. “It varies state by state.”
Law-enforcement training is a large part of the work the ADL does. The organization instructs local and state officials and the FBI. Each training session is offered free of charge, thanks to a national grant.
Many of the officers at the Cleveland training session signed up for the ADL’s bulletin on extremist activities, and ADL staffers sent each department literature with hate group symbols and other helpful materials.
Franey’s department jumped at the idea of taking the training as a proactive measure. “We thought it would be a good education for us,” he says. “Things change and evolve, and we never want to not take an opportunity to learn a little something different.”