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FBI agent discusses online hate speech
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There are a number of hate groups which are active in America, FBI special agent Terri James told the Rotary Club of McMinnville on Thursday.

There’s good news for people who like to spew hate on social media.

What you’re doing may be low class, but it’s not against the law. That’s according to FBI special agent Terri James, who spoke Thursday to the Rotary Club of McMinnville.

“It’s OK to espouse hatred and even hope for people to die,” said James when asked about the fine line between free speech and making illegal threats. “Just hatred in itself is not something we’re going to investigate.” 

Although she added, “It might put you on the FBI radar and once you’re on our radar you kind of stay there.”

There is certainly no shortage of hatred, James said, with several groups of violent extremists currently active in the U.S. James said this includes groups who are anti-government, anti-abortion, or biased against a certain race.

James said contrary to popular belief, there are not FBI agents monitoring everything posted online. When it comes to hate speech, she said, “You can say just terrible, terrible things on the internet.”

She said there’s no clear-cut answer as to what speech crosses the line and becomes a crime. She gave an example of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball. As a result of breaking the racial barrier, she said Robinson received many threats, including one to kill him on the field with a scope rifle.

In her opinion, she said this would likely constitute a true threat not covered under First Amendment free speech.

James, a 14-year FBI agent, gave examples of seemingly ordinary people who snapped and committed deadly acts. She said Jim David Adkisson appeared to be an average church-goer who opened fire inside an East Tennessee church, killing two and wounding seven.

She said Eric Rudolph could have been considered an average citizen before he bombed two abortion clinics and set off another bomb at the Olympics in Atlanta that killed two and wounded 117.

“It may seem cliché, but it’s important for all of us to look out,” said James. “If you see something, say something.”

She gave as an example someone who might have wide-ranging behavior changes. She said if a person once seemed to be happy in life, but suddenly withdraws, seems to have much more anger, and begins to stockpile weapons, that should set off a red flag to contact law enforcement.