The increase in hate crimes – 9.3% more complaints in the first half of the year compared to 2019 – has LGTBI people among its victims. In recent months in Catalonia there have been violent attacks against homosexuals, such as the one that occurred on the Somorrostro beach and which led to the entry into provisional prison of their alleged perpetrators. Joan Caballero, specialist in hate crimes and violent groups and researcher at the Center for Studies and Initiatives on Discrimination and Violence, links the growth of complaints with the emergence of a ‘dark number’ of attacks that were not previously reported, warns informal groups of young people who commit aggressions as a way to end a night of partying and warn about how the speeches of far-right parties and organizations legitimize the aggressors. Next month he will publish ‘Redes de Odio’ (Editorial Delta).
Why are we seeing this growth of LGTBIphobic attacks?
There are several factors. With the use of social networks it is much easier to report an attack without having to go through the traditional official channels. Progress has been made in rights and many people who did not dare to make this type of complaint have managed to make them but through social networks, rather than through official channels. The homophobic aggression in a McDonalds of Barcelona of the Pride of 2018 was first reported in networks and later prosecuted. There are more and more complaints and more crimes come to light than previously remained the so-called ‘dark figure’, that is, criminal acts that existed but were not reported. A homophobic verbal aggression, or a push are types of harassment that many times were not reported because they thought ‘well better to go home and leave’, but now they are not and is reported. It is a positive thing. More is reported because there is less fear of reporting.
More is reported. Is there more hatred too?
There is also more hatred in society and more well-crafted hate speech. Unfortunately, many people have embraced hate speech proclaimed by populist political groups, the extreme right or even neo-Nazi associations. If a discourse is modulated with half-truths, there comes a time when people who do not have extreme political postulates end up believing them anyway. The consequence does not always have to be a physical assault, it can be even more common to deny a job or to veto the presence in an establishment.
This week the Minister of the Interior of the Generalitat revealed the existence of groups that met to go “hunting” against homosexuals, but denied that they were organized plots. What is the difference?
It is necessary to differentiate between a violent organized group, such as the neo-Nazis Hammer Skins or Blood & Honor, and an informal group. The former are clandestine, hierarchical and with leaders, geographically distributed headquarters and can even move through different countries. The latter are groups that have a very informal structure, there is no leader, and there is usually an affinity because they are the same age, they know each other before or through third parties. They can commit an assault, either homophobic or against a homeless person, at the end of a night out. It is not planned, there is no sophisticated degree of organization, there is no dome, no common literature, etc.
This would be the case, for example, of the attack on the Somorrostro beach in Barcelona last May.
Each of the members of this informal group has their own narrative, which is in common with that of those on their side. They do not look for a goal, they do not mark it and they start to follow it and investigate it. The aggression is somewhat improvised, they find an easy target, a victim with few or no options to defend themselves, a place of easy escape. It is attacked when the whole frame of criminal opportunity squares. Surely the physical aggression is preceded by continuous verbal harassment and aggression, because as they go in a group they can afford it.
Can these informal groups be linked to a specific ideology?
You no longer have to be a neo-Nazi to be aggressive and violent. We cannot think that all the homophobic or racist attacks that we see are committed by neo-Nazis because they are not. It’s a mistake. We are seeing people who are getting feedback from an extremist narrative that comes from many sides. We should be more critical of social media. Although the networks help to raise complaints, they are also a channel for the dissemination of speeches that do not know where they come from but that please many people who do not consider themselves extremists. Extremist speech runs through informal channels and is most dangerous when it sneaks up on official ones. There are political parties that send a very well studied message so that ordinary people give it moral support. When an average citizen responds to a message of this type normally, for example accepting the lies and half-truths about unaccompanied minors, as an extremist you have already won.
In some judges and legal operators there is still the stereotype that a hate crime can only be committed by a neo-Nazi?
It must be borne in mind that many of these extremist groups have made an effort to dissociate themselves from the classic image of the neo-Nazi of the 80s or 90s. Now they try to give the image that they are ‘social’, they distribute food, although only to Spaniards. They have struggled to break out of the cliché of the gang that only beats homeless people at night. And everything is a slow process. Progress has been made, but along the way judges, police and prosecutors have had to be trained to detect that when someone comes to report injuries, they do not just stay there, but include the aggravating factor of discrimination. You have to continue training, but progress has been made. It is in a way similar to what happened with gender violence a few years ago, when it began to be reported more and society became aware. The path goes through continuing to denounce.
In one of his studies he spoke of indicators of radicalization of young people. Which are?
There are many. Music, for example, is a channel that helps you find your social positioning. Within music there are all kinds of genres and there is also violent politicized music that opens doors to a series of informal or formal groups linked to the underground, which can be very attractive to a young person. Socialization spaces are also important, for example gyms that can be ways of attracting people for formal or informal groups.
Hate speech begins because they want to homogenize a society that is no longer so
Is there a relationship between the increase in hate attacks and Vox’s speech about the ‘gay lobby’ or lies about migrants?
The message of Vox, as a party that has a speaker by being in the institutions, of course helps this increase. But it also helps the message of other institutions, such as the Church, which are profiled in the face of attacks. Vox will never say that you have to go beat the homosexual or the immigrant, but it gives legitimacy to the person who is extreme enough to go further. The potentially aggressor incorporates the Vox message and does not need the party to tell him that a group must be attacked.
When Vox speaks of ‘Muslim invasion’ it does not explicitly say that no one should be attacked, but it helps a person to insult a Muslim woman with her children when she sees them on the street, or for a businessman to deny a job to an immigrant or a homosexual. Vox’s speech legitimizes previous beliefs or aggressive tendencies, a specific order is not necessary. The Vox phenomenon happens throughout Europe and it was rare that it did not happen in Spain.
Is there a similar pattern across Europe?
There are common messages of what has come to be called ‘identitarianism’. In relation to homophobia and racism, the extremist narrative points to the LGTBI movement as a danger to a strong people with many children, without forgetting machismo. The lesbian woman, without children, is caricatured in front of the Muslim woman with seven or eight children that serves to emit the false message of ‘Muslim invasion’. The speech is becoming contaminated, and it can end up becoming a ‘meme’ that consumes any one we know, who ends up believing it and legitimizing it. It is a complex but constant phenomenon in campaigns throughout Europe. The more you consume, the more you can radicalize someone and become impregnated with the intolerant message. The next step is to get together with like-minded people and that is a bomb. If the chain of criminal opportunities occurs, it can go to the extreme of committing an attack.
What solutions are there?
There are people who are evil by nature and who will impose their intolerance above any reason. That does not mean that it is necessary to carry out criminal, educational and also media policies. We must put aside the loudspeaker that is sometimes given to extremist groups, avoid accidents or mistakes such as that of the president of the Community of Madrid, who during the pandemic thanked an ultra group like the Atlético Front for providing food. At the public policy level, an office against hate crimes should be promoted, and at the educational level, promote citizenship education, so that from an early age we understand that we are not a homogeneous country, but diverse, and that it is something positive. Hate speech begins because they want to homogenize a society that is no longer so.