[TW: This article contains discussions of violence and death.]
Since Donald Trump’s election in Oct. 2016, 21 individuals have been murdered by white supremacists (Los Angeles Times, “Violence
by far-left protesters in Berkeley sparks alarm,” 08.28.2017). In addition, those directly connected to the alt-right have planned and committed two bomb plots and 15 violent attacks and killings. Trump’s ascendency to presidency marked a resurgence in overt racism and white nationalism. Yet, many allege that this revival has nothing to do with Trump’s election. On several occasions, people have tried to convince me that this rise in white supremacist violence is merely a response to increasing racial tensions within the United States, which they claim has nothing to do with Trump. Some even cite far-left aggression in an attempt to justify violence by the alt-right.
It is true that anti-fascist rioters took hold of the “Stand Against Hate” protests at UC Berkeley, destroying property and beating Trump supporters. It is also true that a gunman opened fire on Republican Congress members at a GOP baseball game (NPR, “Wounded Congressman in Critical Condition, Will Require Additional Surgery,” 06.14.2017). However, the violence committed by one side cannot justify the violence of the other. The fact that white supremacists murdered 21 individuals in 2016 remains. And it seems that this resurgence in alt-right violence is only growing.
The year 2017 was the fifth most deadly year for extremist violence since 1970 (Newsweek, “White Supremacists Killed 18 People in 2017, Double the Number from 2016, Report Finds,” 01.17.2018). In the past decade, white supremacist individuals or militias committed 71 percent of extremist related murders (Newsweek). Despite this fact, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen recently argued for the need to prevent foreign terrorists from entering the country when only 26 percent of extremist-related murders were committed by Islamic extremists. Refraining from mentioning or confirming the rise in white supremacist violence, the Trump administration has attempted to distract the general public, stirring up fear of immigrant populations, most of whom are not white.
Trump’s election did not signal some sort of spontaneous resurgence in racism. Racist sentiment has existed in America since the nation’s conception, although it has recently been hidden from the mainstream media. Trump’s condoning, and at times what appears to be endorsement, of white nationalism allows white supremacists to come out of hiding and express more overt and violent expressions of their nationalist leanings. Two members of the white nationalist militia known as the Crusaders planned to bomb an apartment complex that housed a large population of Somali immigrants the day after Trump’s election, so as not to hurt his chances of winning (Mother Jones, “Trump Says White Supremacist Terror Is Fake News. These Chilling Cases Prove Otherwise,” 07.11.2018). In May of 2017, a man with a history of making racist and xenophobic comments confronted two Muslim women and stabbed and killed two passersby who came to their aid, yelling, “You call it terrorism—I call it patriotism!” (Mother Jones). So many accounts of white supremacist violence have been reported since Trump’s election that it is impossible not to see the connection between the two events.
In 2017, Congress passed a joint resolution urging Trump and other Cabinet members to do everything in their power to address the resurgence of white supremacy, including members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Trump signed this proposal privately, yet he tweeted anti-Muslim videos sponsored by alt-right hate groups a mere two months later.
Similarly, after Charlottesville, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated, “Today’s indictment should send a clear message to every would-be criminal in America that we aggressively prosecute violent crimes of hate that threaten the core principles of our nation” (The New York Times, “Charlottesville Car Attack Suspect Indicted on Federal Hate Crime Charges,” 06.27.2018). However, lawmakers have not taken any direct actions against white supremacist terrorism, and a senior federal law enforcement official reportedly confided, “I’ve seen nothing to indicate it’s a priority” (Mother Jones).
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines hate groups as organizations with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics” (Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Year in Hate: Trump buoyed white supremacists in 2017, sparking backlash from black nationalist groups,” 02.21.18). The organization asserts that Trump’s rhetoric and policies are a direct reflection of the goals of white supremacist hate groups and that Trump, as the leader of the United States, defends racism. Trump justifies white nationalism constantly. For example, he has appointed White House officials with ties to the alt-right, such as Steve Bannon of Breitbart News; Sebastian Gorka, who was affiliated with neo-Nazis in Hungary; and Stephen Miller, a follower of anti-Muslim extremists and anti-immigrant hate groups. Trump also promotes policies supported by alt-right groups, such as restricted immigration and decreased gun control.
Most often, though, Trump promotes racism through his rhetoric. In his campaign announcement speech, he famously called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. Although some may brush off his comments as harmless ignorance, Trump’s rhetoric significantly influences members of society. After Trump’s assertion that there were admirable people on both sides of the Charlottesville conflict, the former grand wizard of the KKK David Duke tweeted, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back” (Vox, “‘Why we voted for Donald Trump’: David Duke explains the white supremacist Charlottesville protests,” 08.12.2017).
Since Trump’s election, more and more white nationalist groups have begun campaigning on college campuses, and they seem to be succeeding in their efforts. The SPLC counted more than 300 incidents of the distribution of racist flyers across 200 campuses, and neo-Nazi groups continue to grow en masse (Southern Poverty Law Center). In 2017, the number of neo-Nazi groups in the United States rose from 99 to 121. Anti-Muslim groups have also increased substantially in size for the third year in a row, as have armed militias. These reports are merely underestimates, because a significant part of white supremacist activity still takes place online, and not every white supremacist is formally affiliated with a group.
This sort of activity is unprecedented. Historically, increased white supremacist activity occurs under a Democratic president in response to liberal policies. Alarmingly, however, the United States has witnessed an even greater growth of white nationalism under the Trump administration.
The growth of neo-Nazi and alt-right groups is occurring alongside a decrease in the ranks of the KKK, showing white supremacists’ shift from the stigmatized KKK to newer, more brazen white nationalist groups. Evidently, the alt-right movement is a reincarnation of white supremacy that has infiltrated the public consciousness following Trump’s election.
With a president such as Trump, white nationalist groups with histories of violence now feel that they are allowed to commit hateful acts without fear of punishment. Those who argue against the connection between Trump’s election and the increased acceptance of white supremacy most likely don’t have to fear becoming targets of these groups. By condoning Trump’s rhetoric, policies and actions, individuals must be aware that they are also condoning white supremacy.