Three campus police cars, including a canine unit, sat outside Rackham Auditorium yesterday afternoon.
About 15 additional Department of Public Safety officers were scattered throughout the auditorium while a gray-haired man with a slight Southern drawl gave a lecture.
The man was Morris Dees, founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization founded as a civil rights law firm in 1971 in Montgomery, Ala.
The center’s Intelligence Project monitors the activities of more than 850 organizations it identifies as hate groups.
Dees also had at least two private security guards guarding him during his speech, called “The Current Status of Hate Groups in the United States.”
About 150 people were in the audience.
He has received death threats from several groups opposed to the center’s watchlist. Organizers of yesterday’s event said there were no specific threats made against his appearance at Rackham.
In his response to a question from an audience member, Dees said that hate groups in Michigan are similar to those in other states.
The Center’s website lists 25 hate groups in Michigan, fewer than the 34 in Ohio and the 27 in Pennsylvania, two nearby states with similar populations.
In his speech, Dees said “the most pressing and significant human rights issue” is the situation of immigrants to the United States.
Many hate groups claim that immigrants illegally trespass into the United States and take jobs that belong to citizens, Dees said.
“Trespass is almost a nothing fine,” Dees said. “All you do is send them back across the border.”
Dees said politicians are not doing much to counter anti-immigrant hate groups.
Although he is a lawyer, Dees said the legality of the issue of illegal immigrants doesn’t concern him. He said he is concerned, however, with the discrimination they face once inside the country. Dees said many companies lure immigrants into the country with job offers and then place them into working conditions similar to “slave labor.”
Dees also said that many companies depend on immigrant workers. For example, Latino workers rebuilt 98 percent of the roofs in New Orleans damaged by Hurricane Katrina, he said.
“The bed I slept in last night would not have been made this morning if an undocumented worker had not been here,” he said.
LSA junior Clark Ruper, co-chair of the University’s chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, said the lecture was too vague for his taste. Ruper said that he expected to hear “solid, concrete specifics.”
“It was the same lines over and over again,” Ruper said.
Andrew Bronstein, an LSA junior who attended the lecture at the suggestion of his grandparents, said the lecture made him wonder what University students can do to prevent hate and build community tolerance.
There has been a recent rise in the number of hate groups in the United States, Dees said during a panel discussion before the lecture. The number of groups monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center has increased by 35 percent in the last five years, he said.
Dees said the rise of the Internet has led to a corresponding increase in the accessibility of hate groups. The Southern Poverty now tracks more than 600 hate group websites, he said. Before the Internet, Dees said, hate groups were harder to track and had a much harder time recruiting.
“Hate groups don’t go down to the Chamber of Commerce and register,” he said.
Yesterday’s speech was the first in a new lecture series sponsored by the University’s office of Multi-ethnic Student Affairs called “Diverse Democracy.”
-Alese Bagdol and Amanda Markowitz