Following two mass shootings in just 13 hours—in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas—commentators have asked, “Why the unprecedented rise in hate in the United States?” Actually, race-based hate, violence and hate-motivated rhetoric have a long history in our country, only exacerbated by the election of our first African American president followed by the election of perhaps the most racist president in US history.
The United States in fact experienced what the Southern Poverty Law Center called “astonishing” increases in right wing anti-government, racist, and xenophobic groups between 2000 and 2011, from 602 to 1,018. Declines in race-motivated groups were rapidly followed by dramatic increases in anti-Muslim, white nationalist, white supremacist and militant xenophobic groups.
Militant, white nationalist and hate groups have been emboldened by the Trump administration’s hate-filled rhetoric and executive orders targeting immigrants, especially Muslims and Hispanics, and their support of the 2nd Amendment. Blacks, homosexuals, Jews, members of the GLBTQ community and immigrants are often the targets of hate groups. Fueled by conspiracy theories and racist rhetoric, hate group members loathe intermarriage, liberalization of immigration laws, gay rights and the decline of white European hegemony.
Domestic hate groups such as neo-Confederates and white nationalists fight what many call Anglo-Celtic “cultural genocide” and champion a return to what they believe the founding fathers intended: a nation untainted by newcomers, particularly nonwhite, non-Christian, and non-European immigrants.
Patriot extremists and militias practice self defense in preparation for armed conflict, and both view government as their adversary. So-called “nativist extremists” and a related movement called “sovereign citizens,” according to a report by the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, “…believe that the government is operating outside of its jurisdiction and generally do not recognize federal, state, or local laws, policies, or governmental regulations.” Many members also fear the United Nations and believe that the United Nations agenda is to take over their land and citizenship rights (http://splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/ideology/patriot-movement). Terry Nichols, one of the masterminds behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the US federal courthouse that killed 168 people, was a member.
Taken together, Patriot, extremist, and racist movements are a formidable force in the United States today, both numerically and ideologically. All of these movements share a fundamental suspicion of government, coupled with fear that the core values of our historically white, anglo-Christian “exceptional” nation—individual rights and freedom—are threatened by immigrants and then-President Obama. These movements are emboldened today with an ally in the White House who shares their xenophobic, racist, cultural nationalist, and pro-guns viewpoints, and has filled his administration with neo-Nazi sympathizers, anti-government extremists and racists, including Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. The mostly white audiences attracted to Trump rallies have displayed kinship with militia groups, Patriots and white nationalists described earlier, around familiar themes: that the federal government aims to take their rights—and their guns—away; that persons of color and immigrants are inferior to whites and are overtaking the nation; that global warming is a myth; and that the US government and wealthy entrepreneurs aim to take away their land and jobs and increase their taxes.
As we move dangerously close to white nationalist rhetoric reminiscent of 1930s Nazism, we must publicly and categorically reject these ideologies of hate, pass sensible gun laws, strengthen protections for all US citizens, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and affirm our core values rooted in respect and acceptance, democracy and social justice.
Sandra L. Faiman-Silva, PhD
Bridgewater State University