Two Indian immigrants in Kansas shot by a man hurling anti-Muslim insults. Bomb threats and vandalism menacing Jewish community centers. Children bullying classmates of color with pro-Trump taunts. With reports like these erupting across the country, you wouldn’t be alone in suspecting that America was becoming a more hateful place, or that our current administration might have something to do with it. But now we also have some statistics to illuminate the apparent feedback loop between Pennsylvania Avenue policies and Main Street violence.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) annual census of “extremist” groups, “The number of hate groups in the United States rose for a second year in a row in 2016 as the radical right was energized by the candidacy of Donald Trump.” The number of explicitly anti-Muslim groups has nearly tripled since 2015 alone, to over 100 nationwide. There has also been a spike in reported incidents of “hate” violence, including harassment and physical assault, alongside rising anti-Muslim hostile behavior and bullying in schools. Of nearly 1,100 “bias incidents,” SPLC reports, “37 percent of them directly referenced either President-elect Trump, his campaign slogans, or his infamous remarks about sexual assault.”
Trump’s words have in some cases directly triggered hate-driven attacks. According to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, state data on anti-Muslim hate crimes indicate a spate of crimes across North America, including physical assaults, vandalism, and phone threats, in the five days that followed in the wake of Trump’s December 7, 2015, speech calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” in response to the San Bernardino terrorist attack.
But is the rage-fueled racial invective Trump stokes on stage actually driving violence on the ground? Or is it just a symptom of years of intensifying hostility? And what should Muslim and immigrant communities do when the political establishment stakes its claim to power on a culture of hate?
Setting the Stage for Trump
Trump’s rhetoric and the violence that follows in its wake didn’t come out of nowhere. The strain of hate that seems to have driven many of the recent attacks can be traced back to ultra-right movements that have been around since at least the 1980s. In particular, the anti-government, anti-immigrant rhetoric of today’s hate groups are firmly in the lineage of the “Patriot ” movements and other white- and Christian-supremacist extremist groups that flourished during the Clinton years.