Symbolic Hate: Intention to Intimidate, Political Ideology, and Group Association

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In Virginia v. Black (123 S.Ct. 1536, 2003), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not bar statutes that prohibit cross burnings in which defendants acted with intention to intimidate others. Using a variety of symbols including cross burnings, swastikas, confederate flags, and skin fists, the current research tested how mock jurors used alternative actor intentions to judge culpability in symbolic hate speech cases. Only partially validating the Court's assumptions, participants rated guilt certainty highest when they believed the speakers conveyed direct threats, sometimes regardless of whether defendants intended to intimidate others. Further, results showed the level of perceived intimidation only partially mediated the relationship between type of fact pattern and guilt certainty ratings. While alternative intentions did produce different levels of intention to intimidate, path analysis showed that the participants' ratings of the defendant's intention to convey a direct threat influenced guilt certainty ratings in all cases. Perceived intimidation levels predicted culpability in only some of the cases and not for cross burning on private property.

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