White Nationalism, White Supremacy, Politics News
Trump's election has created "safe spaces" for racists: Southern Poverty Law Center's Heidi Beirich on the wave of hate crimes
Since the election of Donald Trump in November, there have been almost 1,000 reported hate crimes targeting Muslims, Arabs, African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color. At this same moment, there have been terrorist threats against Jewish synagogues and community centers as well as the vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries. These hate crimes have also resulted in physical harm and even death: An Indian immigrant was shot and killed by a white man in Kansas who reportedly told him, “Get out of my country.” Several days ago a white man shot a Sikh man in Washington state after making a similar comment.
When forced by public outrage to comment on the wave of hate crimes spreading across the country, President Trump issued a weak and obligatory statement on the subject during his address to Congress last week. As was the case for the administration’s comments about its decision to not mention Jewish people in its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, the president’s feeble condemnation of racism and bigotry did little to satisfy his critics.
As demonstrated by his rhetoric and policy proposals, and the behavior of his supporters during the 2016 campaign and his presidency, it is clear that Trump relied on white racism and nativism to win the White House. What is less clear, however, is whether the startling increase in hate crimes has been directly inspired by Trump’s victory or whether such crimes simply reflect the social and political forces that put him in the White House. What can nonwhites, Jews, Muslims and other marginalized groups expect during the upcoming months and years of Trump’s presidency — assuming that he is not forced from office?
Salon recently spoke with Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, about the election of Donald Trump, racism and ethnic intolerance, the growth of white supremacist and other hate groups in the United States, and the role of the so-called alt-right in the mainstreaming of white supremacist and white nationalist thought in America and Europe. The conversation with Beirich has been edited for length and clarity.
In President Trump’s address to Congress, he finally addressed the wave of hate crimes all over the country. What was your immediate reaction?
I was glad to see him say at least the sentence about the attack on the Indian immigrants in Kansas and a little bit about the anti-Semitic statements. But I’m also thinking to myself, here we are about 40 days into Trump’s presidency and weeks after the election and we have had an unprecedented number of hate crimes and hate incidents across this country, and it has been like pulling teeth to get Trump to talk about these issues. In the case of Trump, it’s even worse because so much of the violence that we’ve collected information on here at the Southern Poverty Law Center was conducted in the president’s name. Thus his words against this kind of hate violence are all the more critical.
Do you see Trump as a symptom or a cause of these hate crimes?
I do not think there’s any question that Trump is the cause. The first day of his campaign, he bashed immigrants and said Mexicans are rapists. The entire campaign included xenophobic remarks, anti-immigrant remarks, anti-Muslim remarks, racist remarks, trading in anti-Semitic imagery and anti-women comments. Let’s not forget that during the campaign there were hate crimes committed — very severe ones in Trump’s name. For example, there was an immigrant in Boston who was beaten by two Trump supporters.
There was a failed attack on a mosque by a Trump supporter in Los Angeles. Then the pattern accelerated, within hours right after the electoral vote was counted. The pattern of the attacks followed the language he used. “Immigrant” is No. 1; “Muslims,” No. 2. You can go right down the list and see that based on who he attacked in the campaign, they then became victims after the election.
You see a repeated effort to normalize Donald Trump and his politics. Why do you think that the news media has been so reluctant to talk directly about the white nationalists, such as Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka and Michael Anton, who are in Trump’s inner circle?
I have to think that this is all about access. They might not be able to break as many stories. You point to the extremists like Bannon who have no problem with the alt-right or other parts of extremist movements, anti-Muslim movements and so on. And we don’t really have a corporate media that’s gone hard on Trump in any way through the campaign or even now, with all this violence happening. It’s very upsetting.
You mentioned Steve Bannon. How do you think he and other white supremacists were able to rebrand themselves as the alt-right?