FARGO — Despite North Dakota's reputation for being nice, hate still shows its nasty face here.
In fact, the state ranks second in the nation for the highest number of reported hate crimes per capita, according to a Forum analysis of 2015 FBI statistics released this month.
A total of 36 hate crimes were reported to North Dakota police agencies in 2015 - a rate of 4.8 crimes per 100,000 residents.
Surpassing North Dakota for first is Massachusetts, with a rate of 6.3 hate crimes per 100,000 people. Minnesota ranks 19th with 2.1 hate crimes per 100,000 people, which is the same rate for the country as a whole.
North Dakota has held the No. 2 spot since 2012, except in 2013 when it ranked first with 7.1 hate crimes per 100,000 residents.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity."
Kjersten Nelson, chairwoman of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said the state's ranking does not surprise her given what people from various minority groups have told her about their occasional encounters with hate. What did surprise her was that so many people felt comfortable reporting hate crimes.
Nelson said she believes the state's changing demographics and the recent debates over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues are influencing the number of hate crimes.
"This could be sort of emblematic of, you know, what happens when there's change even in a state that's known for being nice," she said. "There'll be discomfort. There will be violence."
The federal government and several states, including Minnesota, have hate-crime laws, under which convictions carry tougher penalties. North Dakota does not have such a law.
Nelson said her coalition favors a hate-crime statute in North Dakota. But she said enacting one doesn't seem possible in the state's political climate.
Of the 36 hate crimes reported in North Dakota last year, 29 were based on race or ethnicity, three were based on religion and four on sexual orientation, according to the FBI.
At the Fargo Police Department, there isn't an official process for gathering hate-crime statistics, Deputy Chief Joe Anderson said. If an officer or records clerk believes a hate crime took place, they alert a supervising officer who decides whether to count it as a hate crime, Anderson said.
In 2015, Fargo police received nine reports of hate crimes: eight based on race or ethnicity and one based on religion. Bismarck police fielded eight reports, all related to race or ethnicity, the FBI said.
The bureau's stats don't say which groups were targeted locally. Though, at a national level, there was a 67 percent spike in hate crimes against Muslims, as well as increases in hate crimes against Jewish, black and LGBT people.
"These numbers should be deeply sobering for all Americans," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Friday, Nov. 18.
Nationally, there were 5,850 hate crimes reported in 2015, the FBI said. "Overall, the number of reported hate crimes increased 6 percent - a number that does not account for the many hate crimes that may go unreported out of shame or fear," Lynch said.
Grand Forks firebomb
Last year, one of the highest-profile hate crimes in recent North Dakota history occurred in Grand Forks.
In December 2015, a man broke the front window of Juba Coffee & Restaurant, a Somali-owned business, and threw a Molotov cocktail inside. The subsequent explosion and fire resulted in over $250,000 in damage. No one was hurt.
The man, 26-year-old Matthew Gust of East Grand Forks, Minn., pleaded guilty to arson and hate crime charges in federal court. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Aside from Fargo and Bismarck, no cities or counties in North Dakota had more than one hate crime reported in 2015 except for McKenzie and Ramsey counties, which each had two reports, according to the FBI.
West Fargo, Cass County, Dilworth and Clay County all registered zero hate crimes last year. One hate crime was reported in Moorhead on the basis of sexual orientation, the FBI said.
In North Dakota and Minnesota, the reported offenses ranged from assaults to intimidation to thefts to vandalism.
Dr. Mohamed Sanaullah is a board member of the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead, a mosque in south Fargo. Sanaullah says the mosque has received a great deal of community support but that he has heard of local Muslims being harassed.
Since the election, national news outlets have reported a spate of hate crimes around the country. Consistent with that pattern, Sanaullah said there were one or two times shortly after Election Day when people drove by the Fargo mosque and shouted profanities.
"You'll always have people who have a low IQ ... who are easily influenced by rhetoric that happens around election time," he said.
Another ugly episode took place about six months ago. Sanaullah said a driver cursed at a man in traditional dress outside the mosque and tried to run him over. The car's license plate number was recorded, and police were notified, he said.
While racism will always exist, Sanaullah said, leaders need to attempt to stamp it out in its early stages. "Our leaders, like it or not, have a big say in how Americans treat each other," he said.