A "national epidemic" of hate-motivated violence against a growing variety of minority groups has affected every section of the country, the National Council of Churches said yesterday in releasing a state-by-state report of such crimes over the last seven years.
"Not a day has passed in the last seven years without someone in the United States being victimized by hate violence," said the 96-page report, entitled "They Don't All Wear Sheets: a Chronology of Racist and Far Right Violence -- 1980-1986."
The catalogue of nearly 3,000 cases of hate-related assault, fire-bombing, bank robbery, murder, kidnaping, cross-burning and vandalism was compiled by the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal.
Even though membership in the Ku Klux Klan, the most widely known hate group, has dropped to half its peak strength in 1982, the group's "overall purpose in spreading hate has succeeded," said Leonard Zeskind, research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal.
Zeskind joined religious leaders yesterday in a news conference called to introduce the report and to support legislation to require the Justice Department to collect and report data on hate crimes.
"If more accurate and up-to-date information were available, it would be very useful to law enforcement agencies seeking to combat these offenses," said a prepared statement by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich), who introduced the bill last year.
The resurgence of hate groups has created "a time of severe testing whether the fabric of our society can continue to hold together," said Rabbi A. James Rudin, interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, who commended the church council's efforts.
In New York City, Rudin said, the number of "group-against-group crimes doubled in 1987."
Rudin pointed out that nationwide, "not only blacks and Jews are victims, but the target community has been expanded" to include Asians, Hispanics, homosexuals and others.
The report and specialists present yesterday said many hate crimes go unreported. "Unfortunately, under current crime reporting standards, crimes motivated by bigotry are not investigated or reported as such," the report said. "If a cross-burning, for example, is reported to law enforcement authorities, it will probably become an arson statistic."
"When you burn a cross on a lawn," said Kenyon C. Burke, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches, "everybody knows you've done more than set a match to a piece of wood."
Besides the Klan, the report cited white-supremacist groups such as the Aryan Nations, Posse Comitatus, The Order, The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of the Lord, among others. The report estimates that the movement "includes 15,000 to 20,000 activists and another 150,000" who attend rallies.
More worrisome than the totals, the report found, is the number of young people involved.
"The continuation of racist violence by a new generation of bigots more than two decades after de jure barriers of racial segregation were broken implies that a moral and political campaign against bigotry and violence must be launched nationwide," the report said.