Thanks to the ‘Trump Effect,’ white nationalist hate just keeps growing and intensifying

Washington Post / YouTube White nationalist rally dwarfed by counterprotesters...
Washington Post / YouTube

We’ve known for awhile now that there is a “Trump Effect” in the world of hate groups and hate crimes, one that primarily affects vulnerable minorities. It’s as though his election lifted the lid that had kept in the Pandora’s Box of racial resentment in America, and all the contained demons came rushing out.

And it continues to intensify. In the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest assessment of the state of hate in America for 2019, it found that even while the total number of hate groups declined slightly from an all-time high in 2018, white nationalist groups overall had increased 55 percent since Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency in 2017.

Anti-LGBTQ groups are flourishing, too: there was a 43 percent increase in such groups in 2019, the report found, bolstered by an anti-LGBTQ movement that “continued to enjoy success in mainstreaming its agenda in 2019.”

Overall, the number of hate groups (defined as “an organization that—based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities—has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics) declined in 2019 to 940, from an all-time high of 1,020 in 2018.

The report found significant declines in racist skinhead activity, as well as declines in the total numbers of neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, and Christian Identity hate groups, as well as a slight decline in anti-Muslim groups. Ku Klux Klan group numbers remained largely stable. Antigovernment extremist groups—which are not considered hate groups, though their ideologies may share some values—also declined to 576, down from 612 in 2018.

However, there were increases in anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT hate groups, as well as a rise in white nationalist hate groups to 155, up from 148. Overall, white nationalist groups have been the fastest-growing sector of the far right during the Trump years, but more significantly, the report views the sector as the one most likely to produce acts of violence in the years ahead.

“The white nationalist movement has embraced increasingly extreme rhetoric in 2019. Some in the movement openly advocate violence and terrorism as a way to precipitate a race war. This growing wing refers to itself as ‘accelerationist.’ At the same time, image-conscious groups like the American Identity Movement (AIM)—which refer to themselves as the ‘dissident right’—spent much of 2019 trying to distance themselves from the more extreme elements within the movement.”

Its future prospects are cause for concern:

The movement will likely continue to splinter over the issue of violence. While a number of arrests—like that of a member of The Base for conspiring to vandalize synagogues—have caused worry among accelerationists, there is little to suggest that wing of the movement will mellow in the coming year. Indeed, white nationalists and neo-Nazis across the movement are more openly expressing their belief that violence is, if not desirable, inevitable. This belief will likely gain further support as political tensions increase surrounding the 2020 election.

The report also details the radical right’s multiple connections to domestic terrorism, including such attacks as the massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Christchurch, New Zealand, that occurred in 2019. The fear and anger behind this violence, it explains, is the “deep fear of demographic change” that is essential to white nationalist beliefs.

“This fear is encapsulated in the conspiratorial notion that a purposeful ‘white genocide’ is under way and that it’s driving ‘the great replacement’ of white people in their ‘home’ countries by foreign, non-white populations,” the report explains. “Antisemitism adds fuel to this fire; some white supremacists claim that Jews—as well as progressive politicians—are helping to facilitate this demographic change.”

Not all the hate groups were necessarily violent, however, and the SPLC is clear that violence or the lack thereof is not part of the criteria for defining hate groups. Some hate groups pursued their ends by promoting hateful rhetoric that they attempted to translate, sometimes successfully, into official government policy—particularly anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The report noted that these hate groups operated with the explicit support of the White House and congressional Republicans, “as the Trump administration pursued anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level, while state and local lawmakers in many areas followed suit.” It also noted that “three cases with implications for the rights of LGBTQ people came before the Supreme Court. One of those is being argued on the side of limiting LGBTQ rights by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ hate group.”

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