Though the exact number of hate crimes and bias incidences in the U.S. is notoriously tough to pin down, the flames of racism and misogyny fanned by the 2016 campaign and the current administration has led to an undeniable uptick: Mosques in California have received threats of genocide; cars belonging to minority families have been vandalized. Jewish community centers across the country have been telephoned with bomb threats.
A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) confirms that the number of hate groups in the U.S. grew for the second consecutive year in 2016. Though many hate crimes are independently motivated, the spike in groups, the SPLC wrote in its “Year in Hate and Extremism” report, shows that “the radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century.” The SPLC has been documenting far-right groups for around 30 years through this annual report; on a press call, Mark Potok, the author of the report and a senior fellow at the SPLC, says “there’s something going on right now in our country, and it’s fairly dramatic.”
In 2016, the number of organized hate groups tracked by the SPLC rose to 917 from 892. The all-time record, set in 2011, was 101 higher than the current count, but in the larger historical context, these numbers are significant. The staggering growth in anti-Muslim groups–from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year–is inseparable from the Islamophobia that shadowed the election and continues to characterize the current administration: On January 26, just hours after Donald Trump announced his executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, arsonists destroyed a mosque in Victoria, Texas.
In the Spring 2017 issue of the Intelligence Report, which contains the hate group data (including an interactive map online), the Potok wrote that Trump’s campaign was the catalyst for this surge in organized hate:
“He kicked off the campaign with a speech vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. He retweeted white supremacist messages, including one that falsely claimed that black people were responsible for 80% of the murders of whites. He credentialed racist media personalities even while barring a serious outlet like The Washington Post, went on a radio show hosted by a rabid conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones, and said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country. He seemed to encourage violence against black protesters at his rallies, suggesting that he would pay the legal fees of anyone charged as a result.”
In a statement, Potok said “the country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made…In Steve Bannon, these extremists think they finally have an ally who has the president’s ear.” That Steve Bannon–the former head of alt-right media outlet Breitbart–now occupies the role of chief strategic adviser, and Mike Flynn, who once tweeted that “[f]ear of Islam is RATIONAL,” nearly served as national security adviser, organized hate now feels legitimated it ways that just years ago would have seemed unthinkable. But perhaps not to all: Potok said that the ongoing diversification of the U.S. population–including the fact that the country will be majority-minority by 2050–has sparked a “crisis of white identity that’s feeding into all the anger and angst we’re seeing in this country.”
Potok noted on the call that at least four hate groups were born out of specifically Trump-fueled sentiment: The Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, for example, launched last year and has organized on-the-ground meetings in addition to its online activity. But while hate-fueled organizations are gaining strength, the number of rallies organized by hate groups has diminished. Potok suspects that was due to Trump’s campaign run: Why go through the trouble of organizing an independent event, Potok says, when you were just as likely to run into like-minded members of the alt-right at an event organized for Trump?
It’s clear that the work of organizations like the SPLC and ProPublica, which launched a hate-crime tracking project earlier this month, will become even more vital–and that community-driven resistance to the culture of hate needs to sustain throughout the current administration to protect people targeted by these groups.