Trump’s legacy: Hate groups are at an all-time high

A neo-Nazi rally in Georgia in April 2018. The Southern Poverty Law Center report gives details on a continued growth of hate groups in the Trump era.

A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center tells us what we already suspected when we see and read news reports: There are a record number of hate groups in the United States, driven by both shifting demographics and Trumped-up fears of immigration.

The SPLC gives us the discouraging numbers both on its website and in its spring Intelligence Report:

  • The number of hate groups reached an all-time high of 1,020 in 2018.
  • The number was the fourth straight year of hate group growth, or 30 percent growth overall.
  • In  2018,  at  least  40  people  in  the  U.S.  and  Canada were killed by people either motivated by or attracted to far-right ideologies, embracing ideas and philosophies that are cornerstones of the alt-right. “Violence that has traditionally been in the shadows of racist extremism is increasingly taking to the streets,” the report said.
  • During the first few years of President Obama’s second term, hate crimes actually fell by 12 percent.
  • When Donald Trump announced that he was running for president and started his anti-immigrant rhetoric about “building a wall,” the number started rising again.
  • Hate crimes grew by 30 percent from 2014 to 2017 (2018 hate crime figures are not available yet from the FBI).

This report was released about the same time as the news about the arrest of a Coast Guard lieutenant and self-described white nationalist with a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland apartment, along with a hit list of liberal politicians and journalists. The story about the planned mass killing as an act of domestic terrorism is shocking. It’s shocking but not surprising, given the rhetoric and influence coming from Trump and right-wing media.

Trump’s constant harping about “fake news” and various news outlets being “the enemy of the people” and his insistence that Democrats “don’t care about border security” can have real-world consequences. It was only last October that pipe bombs were sent to CNN, George Soros, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, among others.

The SPLC report quotes former U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford saying that Trump has “unearthed some demons.”

I’m sure we’ll hear that Christopher Paul Hasson, the Maryland would-be domestic terrorist who was arrested on illegal weapons and drug charges, likely has some serious mental health issues. But that doesn’t lessen the depravity of what he was trying to accomplish. From the report in The Washington Post:

Christopher Paul Hasson called for “focused violence” to “establish a white homeland” and dreamed of ways to “kill almost every last person on earth,” according to court records filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and searched the Internet using phrases such as “best place in dc to see congress people” and “are supreme court justices protected.” …

Officials with the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland outlined Hasson’s alleged plans to spark chaos and destruction in court documents, describing a man obsessed with neo-fascist and neo-Nazi views.

“Please send me your violence that I may unleash it onto their heads,” Hasson wrote in a letter that prosecutors say was found in his email drafts. “Guide my hate to make a lasting impression on this world.”

Hasson’s hit list included Democratic presidential candidates, Democratic leaders, CNN and MSNBC journalists, and other Democratic lawmakers. Although he was part of the Coast Guard, he was also served in the Marines and the Army National Guard. So that’s scary right-wing influence in multiple parts of our armed services. How many more like him are out there?

There are a lot more like him, as detailed in the SPLC report. Among the other particulars:

  • The number of white nationalist groups surged by nearly 50 percent in 2018, from 100 groups to 148.
  • The previous high of 1,018 hate groups was in 2011. That growth was seen as a backlash against President Obama, but the number started to drop after his reelection.
  • Distribution of hate group flyers has reached an unprecedented level in the U.S. and spread farther than the usual target of college campuses.
  • Technology and social media have ramped up the spread of hateful rhetoric and online threats, and tech companies aren’t working hard enough to stop them.
  • The hate groups described include the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, racist skinheads, Christian identity groups, neo-Confederates, black nationalists, and anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and general hate groups. (Antisemitism sentiment is shared by several of these outfits.)

And even Trumpian rhetoric apparently isn’t enough for these haters.

That was the landscape of the radical right in 2018. In the U.S., white supremacist anger reached a fever pitch last year as hysteria over losing a white-majority nation to demographic change — and a presumed lack of political will to stop it — engulfed the movement. White supremacists getting pushed off mainstream web platforms, President Donald Trump’s willingness to pass a tax cut for the rich but failure to build a wall and a turn to the left in the midterm elections drove deep-seated fears of an accelerating, state- and Silicon Valley-orchestrated “white genocide.”

Even Trump’s opportunistic November attacks on a caravan of migrants moving slowly north through Mexico were seen as all talk and no action by the white supremacist and anti-immigrant movements. …

The midterms tended to validate hate groups’ fears for the future. Even more angering to hate groups were the dozens of women…elected to the new U.S. Congress, including two Muslims. For white supremacists, these newly elected officials symbolize the country’s changing demographics — the future that white supremacists loathe and fear.

There is speculation that the “all talk and no action” belief could cause some people, such as Robert Bowers, the gunman accused of killing 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, to act on their own, like the proverbial “lone wolf.” As Think Progress pointed out:

“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” Bowers wrote on the far right social media Gab, just prior to the shooting, referencing a baseless conspiracy theory about billionaire and liberal philanthropist George Soros supposedly financing a caravan of immigrants headed to the U.S.-Mexico border. Soros is a frequent target of anti-Semites who claim he wields massive influence in progressive politics.

“Screw your optics, I’m going in,” Bowers wrote.

The Maryland Coast Guard terrorist suspect isn’t reported to be a member of any organized hate groups, and he seemed to be ready to act alone. “I never saw a reason for mass protest or wearing uniforms marching around provoking people with swastikas etc.,” he wrote. “I was and am a man of action you cannot change minds protesting like that.”

But Hasson drew inspiration from the writings (and the drug use and suggestions) of Anders Breivik, a right-wing extremist who was convicted of two 2011 terror attacks in Norway that killed 77 people. Hasson’s hit list of potential targets also echoed Trump’s language, such as calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “poca Warren.”

The SPLC report echoes the conclusions of a January report from the Anti-Defamation League, which said right-wing extremists were responsible for 50 extremist-related murders in the U.S. in 2018. (The ADL report gives a higher number of deaths than the SPLC report). “Over the last decade, a total of 73.3 percent of all extremist-related fatalities can be linked to domestic right-wing extremists,” the ADL report said.

Summations about the SPLC report feature warnings and advice from two SPLC officials:

“The numbers tell a striking story – that this president is not simply a polarizing figure but a radicalizing one,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it – with both his rhetoric and his policies. In doing so, he’s given people across America the go-ahead to act on their worst instincts.” …

“Hate has frayed the social fabric of our country,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “Knitting it back together will take the efforts of all segments of our society – our families, our schools, our houses of worship, our civic organizations and the business community. Most of all, it will take leadership – political leadership – that inspires our country to live up to its highest values.”

As always, the SPLC includes a link to its interactive hate map so you can see where there’s “hate in your state.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 24, 2019.

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