Illinois cracks down on vanity plates with hidden messages of hate

Millions of people across the United States have vanity license plates but thousands have been banned here in Illinois alone.

But what exactly constitutes an inappropriate license plate?

Dave Druker with the Secretary of State's office said the state looks for three things:
a general obscenity, a sexual reference, or hate involving race or ethnicity.
“We have approximately 6,400 words that are inhibited, which is to say, if one goes to our website to pick a plate, and you put that in there, it's going to say you can't get it,” Druker said.
And that third category - isn't always as obvious as it might look.

Druker said one man had no idea the number 14-88 on his plate are numbers used by white supremacists.

“We did reach out to the person who has the plate, and I might add, he was mortified when he found out,” Druker said.

Lonnie Nasatir, regional director with the Anti-defamation League, keeps a close eye on hate speech - and incidents. 

“We have in fact seen an uptick in extremist activity, extremist language,” Nasatir said.

He said while most people might not know the language of hate speech - it's important to be vigilant.

“There's a whole kind of underworld of the way in which extremists use numbers to associate themselves,” Nasatir said.

And it's not just numbers on plates. It can be letters too. 

For example, the word “kabark” is actually a Ku Klux Klan acronym.

For it's part, Druker said his office monitors each plate that comes in, starting with software that rejects known “inhibitors.”

Then, the remainders get a second look with the team using Urban Dictionary and Google to research every plate. 

“We do look at it closely and things do change. Something that might not have existed yesterday is potentially an insult today,” Druker said.

Click here for the state's full list of banned license plates. Warning: Reader discretion is advised.