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Comey: If We Don't Stop Hate Crime, 'It Will Come for All of Us'

WASHINGTON -- FBI Director James Comey told the Anti-Defamation League today that the Bureau is determined "not to let evil hold the field" as he fears people "stewing" with hate turning their prejudices into hate crimes.

He cited recent incidents including "the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, the racially motivated shooting of two Indian immigrants... swastikas on synagogues and subway signs, a transgender woman attacked in her own home, a noose sent to an African-American attorney... a defaced sign on a Spanish-language church."

Comey told the ADL's National Leadership Summit that "as much as we love" the activist group, "we have been spending way too much time together lately -- I think we'd all be happier if we had meetings that were fewer and far between, if we had no need to investigate hate crime, no need to share information about pending terrorist threats, no need to educate kids or community leaders or cops about bigotry and prejudice."

"In your line of work, and in ours, we see a lot of people filled with hate. Some of those people will sit quietly, simmering and stewing in their own bitterness. Some will shout about it to anyone who will listen, ever hopeful that maybe their hate will attract hate," he said. "And while we can try and illuminate and educate those people who are sitting there simmering, some will always be trapped in that starless midnight that Martin Luther King wrote about so many years ago."

Comey mused about whether people have been "emboldened by divisive rhetoric" or if there are "simply more opportunities to instill fear and intimidation today than ever before."

"Do the ways in which we now communicate, often anonymously and from a great distance, offer license to those who want to hate, who want to discriminate, who want to poison?"

The FBI director recently joined Twitter "to listen, to read, especially, what's being said about the FBI and its mission," and said the social media site sometimes feels like "every dive bar in America, where I can hear everybody screaming at the television set."

"But it is free speech. You don't have to like it, you don't have to agree with it, but we will protect it, because it is the bedrock of this great country," he added.

What's worrisome, he noted, "are the ones who stop talking about who they hate and what they hate so much, and start acting on that hate."

"You know all too well that, in a heartbeat, words can turn to violence, because hate doesn't remain static too often. An opinion, a dislike, a prejudice sometimes foments, sometimes it festers and it can grow into something far more dangerous," Comey said. "Sometimes, too often, hate becomes hate crime. So we have to do everything in our power to stop those people who move from stewing to acting, who move from just hating to hurting, wherever they are, whoever they are, no matter whether they occupy positions of authority or they're private citizens."