Vandalism at synagogues, hate symbols found at local schools and even threats of mass violence at places of worship have kept local law enforcement busy as anti-extremism groups raise concerns about Colorado’s problem with hate.
“The state of hate in Colorado is relatively hot right now,” said Jeremy Shaver, the associate director of the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States office. “We’ve seen a rise of extremism both internationally, across the United States and in Colorado.”
Over the last several years, 9NEWS and other media outlets have documented a number of incidents involving hate groups, from open displays of white supremacy at Colorado State University to swatstika vandalism at local places of worship.
WATCH: Part II of 9Wants to Know Reporter Jeremy Jojola's "Homegrown Hate" investigation will air Monday night on 9NEWS at 9 and 10 p.m.
Just this month, Colorado was thrust into the national spotlight when a Pueblo man with white supremacy ties was arrested for planning to blow up a synagogue.
The Anti-Defamation League has documented a marked increase of anti-Semitic incidents in Colorado over the last six years, from 18 in 2015 to dozens every year after. Shaver said in an email that while “not all of the incidents are necessarily criminal,” they include reports from victims, the public, media and law enforcement.
Law enforcement agencies are also reporting more criminal behaviors against people based on their race, religion and sexual identity.
For example, CBI reports hate crimes across the state have jumped from 96 in 2017 to 139 in 2018.
Despite hate crime charge, Denver man is still active
Samuel Cordova, 21, is facing a bias-motivated charge in Denver after police say he was caught on camera vandalizing a book store during a drag queen reading event on June 27.
Patriot Front is classified as white nationalist group by the Anti-Defamation League and is known to spread its message through fliers and stickers on college campuses.
The police report also said Cordova targeted the bookstore “because there would be gay rights activists associated with Antifa” at the event.
A few months after his arrest and amid his pending charge, 9Wants to Know spotted Cordova at a September protest against an all-ages drag show at Mile High Comics in north Denver.
Images show him hanging out with local members of the Proud Boys, another organization labeled as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation league.
Colorado Proud Boy Louie Huey admitted white supremacists will show up at the same rallies and protests and try to attach themselves to his group. Huey, who said he’s Latino, denied the Proud Boys are a white supremacist group.
“They’ve been at rallies that we’ve been at,” Huey told 9NEWS. “But that doesn’t mean that we hang out….. we both have a common enemy at the time. Doesn’t mean we support their ideas. Because we don’t.”
When 9Wants to Know encountered Cordova at his home, he denied any ties to white supremacist groups and declined to discuss his criminal case.
While Cordova doesn’t have a violent criminal record, Shaver said it’s important for the community to focus on discouraging stickers and flyering because the behavior can intensify.
“Somebody usually goes through this process of becoming more extreme, more radicalized, more steeped in their racist attitudes and beliefs. They would actually then be propelled to take more violent action,” Shaver said.
Cordova’s bias-motivated crime charge, which is a misdemeanor, is still pending in Denver’s court system. A plea hearing that was scheduled on Nov. 19 was continued to a later date.
How the data works
Hate crime data experts theorize there are far more incidents and crimes that go unreported because people don’t feel comfortable going to police or don’t want their names associated with a criminal case.
Dr. Apryl Alexander is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Denver that studies the criminal justice system.
“These might be under-reports,” Alexander said of the FBI and CBI numbers. “It was not that these didn’t exist, it was just that now we have better reporting, better protection, and are prosecuting for these victims.”
She said the key to accurate reporting is creating spaces where victims feel comfortable reporting crimes against them. They need to feel as though they won’t face discrimination or retribution.
“We know historically, victims of crimes don’t report crimes - period,” Alexander said. “For a number of different reasons, but one being: Will I be believed? And will the system be responsive to my needs? So when we create these safe spaces for victims of all different backgrounds to report, reporting does go up.”
An analysis of Colorado court data also reveals prosecutors have been steadily charging more people with bias-motivated crimes, which can include harassment and assault. But only 32% of the time, those kind of charges resulted with an actual conviction according to the analysis from years 2014 to 2018.
Michael Dougherty, the district attorney in Boulder County, said data on hate crimes is “incomplete.” That is the reason why he said his office has dedicated resources to the issue.
The Boulder DA has prosecutors who concentrate specifically on hate crime cases, train law enforcement partners to identify bias and hate crime cases, and meet with affected communities to “discuss events and trends of concern.”
Dougherty said the office was established “because bias and hate crimes cannot be tolerated in our society.” He said the Boulder DA Hotline for victims and witnesses to call is 303-441-1595.
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