The term "hate crime" came into common usage in the United States during the 1980s, but it is often used retrospectively in order to describe events which occurred prior to that era. From the Roman persecution of Christians to the Nazi slaughter of Jews, hate crimes were committed by both individuals and governments long before the term was commonly used. A major part of defining a crime as a hate crime is that it is directed toward a historically oppressed group.
As Europeans began to colonize the world from the 16th century onwards, indigenous peoples in the colonized areas, such as Native Americans increasingly became the targets of bias-motivated intimidation and violence. During the past two centuries, typical examples of hate crimes in the U.S. include lynchings of African Americans, largely in the South, and lynchings of Mexicans and Chinese in the West; cross burnings to intimidate black activists or to drive black families from predominantly white neighborhoods both during and after Reconstruction; assaults on white people traveling in predominantly black neighborhoods; assaults on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues; and xenophobic responses to a variety of minority ethnic groups.
The verb "to lynch" is attributed to the actions of Charles Lynch, an 18th-century Virginia Quaker. Lynch, other militia officers, and justices of the peace rounded up Tory sympathizers who were given a summary trial at an informal court; sentences handed down included whipping, property seizure, coerced pledges of allegiance, and conscription into the military. Originally, the term referred to extrajudicial organized but unauthorized punishment of criminals. It later evolved to describe execution outside "ordinary justice." It is highly associated with white suppression of African Americans in the South, and periods of weak or nonexistent police authority, as in certain frontier areas of the Old West.